A federal appellate court on Wednesday rejected Lousiana’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, marking a victory for thousands of Medicaid patients and reproductive health access in the state.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction by a lower court, which had blocked the state Republicans’ attempt to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC).
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last year cited anti-choice activists’ widely discredited smear videos as the basis for removing Planned Parenthood from the state Medicaid program, saying Planned Parenthood doesn’t “represent the values” of the state.
Planned Parenthood and patients quickly sued, and a district court blocked the state’s defunding attempt—a decision the appellate panel affirmed on Wednesday.
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In a 38-page decision, the three-judge panel wrote that the state failed to provide grounds for its claims that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast had committed fraud or misrepresentation. The panel wrote that the state “has simply pasted the labels of ‘fraud’ and ‘misrepresentations’ on PPGC’s conduct, and then insisted that these labels should insulate its termination actions from … challenges.”
Republican lawmakers in states across the country and in Congress have attempted to strip Planned Parenthood of funding amid baseless allegations by an anti-choice front group that the provider unlawfully sells fetal tissue.
These states are now facing a Zika virus threat, with 29 cases reported in Louisiana on Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States that have gutted reproductive health funding are now particularly vulnerable to Zika outbreaks, as Vox reported.
Referencing the federal Medicaid statute’s free-choice-of-provider requirement, the appellate panel wrote that patients have the right to choose among a “range of qualified providers, without government interference,” and said the state hadn’t made its case that Planned Parenthood was unqualified.
The Obama administration last year warned states that defunding Planned Parenthood is likely illegal.
More than 5,000 Louisianans rely on Medicaid for health-care coverage at Planned Parenthood facilities in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The facilities offer well-woman exams, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, but do not offer abortion care, as Rewire has reported.