By Brian Lyman
Alabama would pay just over $51,000 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood Southeast over Gov. Robert Bentley's attempt to cancel the organization's Medicaid contract, under an agreement filed in federal court Monday morning.
The governor moved to cancel the organization's contract -- worth about $4,453 in FY 2013 and 2014 -- in August after videos surfaced alleging that Planned Parenthood sold fetuses and fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood, which says the videos were deceptively edited, said a handful of affiliates engaged in a fetal tissue donation program and that the organization never sold fetal parts. Planned Parenthood Southeast never participated in the program, and Planned Parenthood has ended it.
The draft agreement, which still needs approval from U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, says that Medicaid restored PPSE's contract after Thompson ruled against Bentley last month. Planned Parenthood Southeast says in the agreement it does not participate in any fetal tissue donation programs or sell fetal tissue, and will abide by Alabama laws on the subject.
"Had the governor checked beforehand, he would have known that," said Randall Marshall, an attorney with the ACLU who represented Planned Parenthood Southeast in its lawsuit.
Bentley said at a press conference Monday afternoon he did not attempt to consult PPSE before pulling their contract. But he said he believed Alabama's actions, along with those of other states, forced Planned Parenthood to end the program.
"It was a win," the governor said. "Headlines may not show it was a win, but it was a win. When you can get an organization like Planned Parenthood that was doing such despicable things as selling body parts -- regardless of how you feel about abortion, and whether you think abortion should be legal or not, selling body parts and doing an abortion to harvest body parts is a despicable act."
Planned Parenthood officials praised the ruling. PPSE CEO Staci Fox said in a statement they were "pleased the state has backed off of a costly and wasteful attempt to restrict care for Alabama women."
"Alabama women will continue to be able to access care at Planned Parenthood using their Medicaid coverage," the statement said. "The courts have made it clear across the country that these are losing battles that ultimately waste resources and harm patients."
Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, referring to the attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last week that killed three and injured nine, said "our doors are open today in Alabama, in Colorado and across the country."
"Let it be known to politicians and extremists who are doubling down on their efforts to target care at our health centers -- Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up and protect our patients," the statement said.
While Planned Parenthood provides abortion services at its clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, Medicaid only pays for abortions in cases of rape or incest, or when a mother's life is in danger. Planned Parenthood Southeast's Medicaid money went to birth control and cancer and STD screenings.
Thompson ruled last month that Bentley's move deprived Medicaid patients of the provider of their choice, and would allow states to cancel contracts arbitrarily without giving parties an adequate basis of appeal.
"To conclude otherwise would not only strip the Medicaid Act's free-choice-of-provider provision of all meaning, but also would contravene clear congressional intent to give Medicaid beneficiaries the right to receive covered services from any qualified and willing provider," Thompson wrote.
(c)2015 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)