Not so fast: Federal judge says Arkansas cannot defund Planned Parenthood

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Mike Blake)Protesters stand on a sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California, Aug. 3, 2015. Several states, including Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas had governors who ordered their states to withdraw funding from the abortion mill. Now, after the State of Arkansas was sued, a federal judge appointed by President Obama has ruled the state must keep funding Planned Parenthood while it prepares its legal defense. REUTERS/Mike Blake

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Christian Examiner) – A little more than a month after Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison ordered his state to dissolve its Medicaid provider contract with the scandal-plagued abortion provider Planned Parenthood, a federal judge has ordered it reinstated – but perhaps only temporarily.

On Sept. 18, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a request from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Arkansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union to block the defunding of the organization for 14 days, even after a series of 10 videos surfaced showing abortion providers negotiating the sale of fetal body parts with undercover operatives from the Center for Medical Progress.

The cancellation of the Medicaid provider contract – a state contract – was to have taken effect Sept. 20. Now, both sides in the case will have two weeks to prepare further arguments as to why the funding should be permanently reinstated or denied.

In August, Hutchison directed the state's Department of Human Services to cancel the contract because it was "apparent," he said, "that after the recent revelations on the actions of Planned Parenthood that this organization does not represent the values of the people of our state and Arkansas is better served by terminating any and all existing contracts with them."

According to state records, Planned Parenthood's branch in Arkansas received $51,000 for its "family planning" and "gynecological services," but the group claims none of the money paid for abortions. As a result, the abortion provider filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Sept. 11.

As governor, I disagree with the Court's decision. Ethical conduct by Medicaid providers is a relevant factor for the state to consider. Hopefully, the Court or a higher court will reconsider the preliminary decision once the facts are fully developed. It is disappointing that a judge appointed by President Obama does not give sufficient weight to the morally repugnant conduct of Planned Parenthood displayed in a series of recently released videos.
- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison

Arkansas is also not the only state being sued. Gov. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Gov. Robert Bentley in Alabama both ordered their states to drop their Medicaid provider contracts with the abortion mill. Planned Parenthood alleges the states are, by denying funding to their particular organization, violating federal law by blocking access to women's health care.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Arkansas issued a statement Sept. 18, in which Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's CEO Suzanna de Baca said it was in court "because every woman deserves access to safe, quality, compassionate care at a provider she knows and trusts."

Judge Baker ruled after hearing the oral arguments from the abortion provider that "there is no evidence that PPH performs surgical abortions in Arkansas from which fetal tissue could be obtained. There is no evidence that PPH performs medication abortions in Arkansas from which fetal tissue can be obtained and donated for any purpose. There also is no evidence that PPH has been cited, reprimanded, or cautioned by ADHS in the past about its qualifications as a provider of the services it offers."

She then issued a restraining order, giving Planned Parenthood more time to mount its legal defense.  De Baca said was grateful for the court's recognition that the ruling was not about politics, but about "staying health and building a future."

Rita Sklar, executive director for the ACLU of Arkansas said she was confident the court would later require Arkansas to permanently restore funding to Planned Parenthood because it had done so in similar cases.

"We are confident in the merits of this case and hope the federal courts will ultimately rule on the side of the women who rely on Medicaid programs for basic, preventive health care," Sklar said.

Planned Parenthood's national president also weighed in on the "victory."

"Yet another court has ruled to stop politicians from blocking access to care at Planned Parenthood. This is a victory for women in Arkansas and Planned Parenthood's 2.7 million patients across the country," Cecile Richards said. "At Planned Parenthood, we will never back down and we will never stop fighting for our patients to access the care they need and deserve."

Hutchinson said he disagreed with the judge's ruling:

"As governor, I disagree with the Court's decision. Ethical conduct by Medicaid providers is a relevant factor for the state to consider. Hopefully, the Court or a higher court will reconsider the preliminary decision once the facts are fully developed. It is disappointing that a judge appointed by President Obama does not give sufficient weight to the morally repugnant conduct of Planned Parenthood displayed in a series of recently released videos."

On Sept. 18, while the district court was handing Planned Parenthood its win at the state level, House Republicans in Washington led an effort to drop funding for the abortion provider for a year. The House voted 241-187 to defund the group, with all of Arkansas' representatives siding with the Republican majority.