Planned Parenthood wins fight against Mississippi funding law

State lawmakers have passed some 300 laws since 2011 restricting funding for abortion providers. Federal courts have been slowly knocking them down.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/Reuters/File
An exam room at a Planned Parenthood center in South Austin, Texas.

A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law that banned Medicaid spending to any organization associated with abortion providers, siding with two Planned Parenthood affiliates in their June challenge to the law. 

The law would have cut off Medicaid funding to the state’s only abortion clinic, as well as to its single Planned Parenthood clinic, which doesn’t provide abortions, according to the Jackson Free Press. 

In his decision, Judge Daniel Jordan cited a September appeals court ruling on a law passed in Louisiana, writing that “essentially every court to consider similar laws has found that they violate” federal rules prohibiting the blocking of Medicaid funds to qualified providers.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who says he wants to end abortion in the state, said in a statement that he was “obviously disappointed” with the ruling.

"I believe the law was the right thing to do and I will continue to stand with the legislature and people of Mississippi who do not want their hard-earned money going to the largest abortion provider in the nation," he wrote in a Facebook post

Legislative chambers in conservative-led states have sheltered the flame of opposition to abortion services, enacting hundreds of restrictions in recent years that choke off funding streams and erect obstacles to access. In response, Planned Parenthood has taken those laws to federal courts – a strategy that has generally worked in its favor.

That’s particularly true when the funding stream comes from Medicaid, one of two federal programs that keeps low-income clinics like Planned Parenthood affiliates running. In fact, Medicaid contributes as much as 40 percent of Planned Parenthood's funding, noted NPR in 2015. The Mississippi clinics were an exception: the Jackson Free Press reports that combined Medicaid payments were less than $1,000 over the past few years.

States have had more success in restricting money from a federal family-planning program, Title X. In 2014, an appeals court upheld a Kansas law that prioritized county health departments for Title X funding over reproductive service providers, effectively starving Planned Parenthood and other family-planning clinics, according to the Associated Press. At least 13 states have created similar laws, though the Obama administration has recently proposed changes to Title X that would bar states from establishing their own eligibility restrictions for funding.

Abortions account for just 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services, but it remains the nation’s largest abortion provider – more than enough to justify its shuttering, opponents say, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Jessica Mendoza wrote in 2015:

“Abortion is the taking of a life,” says Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. “You can be in favor of the taking of a human life, but if you’re opposed, there’s no middle ground on that.”

Others take the argument further, saying that Planned Parenthood embodies a broader decline of Christian morality in the US.

“Planned Parenthood is one of the most insidious organizations in the country,” says Ann Scheidler, co-founder of the Pro-Life Action League. “Ever since its founding, it has sought to undermine the integrity of the family, to facilitate immoral behavior … and to lead teenagers into really risky behavior. It’s largely responsible for the breakdown of morality in the country.”

To Mrs. Scheidler, Planned Parenthood’s entire approach – from the provision of contraception to the performing of abortions – encourages women to avoid responsibility for their sexual relationships.

In a press release, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards celebrated Thursday's ruling.  

"Yet another court has said it is unacceptable for politicians to dictate where women can go for their health care," she wrote. "This case is about the people who rely on us for basic care every day. We will not stand for these attacks on our patients' right to health care, and Planned Parenthood will fight for our patients at every turn."

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