By Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk
Alabama must restore Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood clinics because Republican Gov. Robert Bentley illegally terminated the contract after watching an undercover video by anti-abortion activists on fetal tissue procurement that had nothing to do with clinics in that state, a federal judge ruled.
Alabama can't cut off Medicaid funds without finding the health care provider did something wrong, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of Montgomery ruled Wednesday. He ordered the funding reinstated immediately for all Medicaid patients seeking services from Planned Parenthood Southeast's two Alabama clinics.
State officials first tried to terminate the clinics' funding under a contract provision that said no justification was required. When the judge disallowed that move in an earlier proceeding, the state said it could yank the funding because of allegedly unethical practices brought to light in a series of covertly filmed videos released by anti-abortion activists. The tapes, which Planned Parenthood's leadership has denounced as deceptively edited, purport to show affiliates in other states illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue donated by some abortion patients.
"The parties do not dispute that no employee or representative of PPSE is depicted in these videos and that PPSE does not participate in fetal tissue donation, and never has," Thompson said in a 66-page opinion.
The Planned Parenthood branch that operates in Alabama received about $5,600 in Medicaid reimbursement for seeing about one or two Medicaid patients a week for the past two years, according to court papers. No public funds are used to pay for abortions.
Alabama's move is part of a nationwide push to defund Planned Parenthood. Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Utah have all announced plans to cut off Medicaid funds to the group's affiliates, and the clinics are fighting back in federal courts in each state. Congressional Republicans narrowly failed last month to shut down funding for the group, the largest provider of abortion procedures in the U.S.
"For the fourth time in six weeks, the courts have ruled to protect access to care at Planned Parenthood," Cecile Richards, national president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "Gov. Bentley's misguided attempt to score political points on the backs of Alabama's women has been stopped for now, but it's clear that politicians will not stop in their attempts to ban abortion and block access to care at Planned Parenthood."
Jake Jacobs, a spokesman for Bentley, declined to comment on the ruling.
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