Court Blocks Mississippi Law That Would Have Cut Medicaid Funding to Abortion Providers

Planned Parenthood scored a huge win Thursday when a federal judge blocked a Mississippi law that would have banned Medicaid patients from receiving treatment at any abortion-providing or affiliated health care provider.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III made the ruling after two Planned Parenthood affiliates filed a lawsuit in June, the Associated Press reports. His decision agreed with Planned Parenthood’s complaint that the law unconstitutionally limited the patient’s federal right to a “free-choice of provider,” which other courts have historically protected. This follows the precedent set by a ruling, from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which blocked a similar law in Louisiana.

"Yet another court has said it is unacceptable for politicians to dictate where women can go for their health care," said president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Cecile Richards in a statement Thursday, according to the AP.

Conservative Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who signed the law, expressed his disappointment with the ruling. “I will continue to stand with the Legislature and the people of Mississippi who do not want their hard-earned money going to the largest abortion provider in the nation,” said Bryant in a statement.

Prior to Bryant signing the defeated law into place in July, the director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid sent a notice to every state Medicaid agency in April. The friendly reminder stated they can’t cut funding to clinics like Planned Parenthood just because they provide or are affiliated with abortion.

According to the AP, the two Mississippi Planned Parenthood affiliates that filed the lawsuit do not provide abortions. Instead, they took federal Medicaid dollars to pay for services like birth control and cancer screenings. The nearest clinics that provide abortions are in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as in Alabama and Georgia.

Medicaid funds, under federal law, already cannot be spent on abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother—this is the Hyde Amendment that you may have heard about while following this year's election. An additional 17 states allow state Medicaid funds to be used for “medically necessary” abortions. Mississippi state Medicaid funds, therefore, were only being used at Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics for non-abortion services anyway. Between July 2013 and August 2015, this only amounted to $439 in expenditures at the Planned Parenthood in Hattiesburg, Miss., according to the AP.

Luckily for Planned Parenthood advocates, court rulings like this, among many others recently, have set back many conservative legislators’ hopes of defunding abortion-providing women’s clinics and constraining women from visiting them.