Minnesota Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Medicaid Abortion Coverage

Conservative legal advocates argue that the state is wrongfully paying for abortions for low-income women in Minnesota, but the courts disagree.

Conservative legal advocates argue that the state is wrongfully paying for abortions for low-income women in Minnesota, but the courts disagree. Health insurance via Shutterstock

On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision dismissing a lawsuit that challenged state insurance coverage of medically necessary abortion services for low-income patients in Minnesota.

The Hyde Amendment currently forbids the use of federal funds for abortions, with a narrow exception allowed for cases of life endangerment or pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Under a jointly funded federal-state Medicaid program for low-income individuals, states must at a minimum allow Medicaid funding for abortions within the narrow federal standards set under the Hyde Amendment. But Minnesota is one of 13 states where, thanks to a court order, Medicaid funds can go to all or most medically necessary abortions.

In the early 1990s, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit, Doe v. Gomez, on behalf of Pro-Choice Resources—a reproductive justice organization that helps provide funding to low-income women seeking abortions—and other Minnesota reproductive rights and health organizations, to change Minnesota law prohibiting state insurance plans from covering abortion services even when necessary to preserve a woman’s health. In 1995, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that denying insurance coverage for medical services related to therapeutic abortions infringes on a woman’s fundamental rights under the state constitution.

Since the 1995 decision, conservative groups have sought to undo or weaken Doe v. Gomez, most recently in 2012 when attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense League) filed a lawsuit claiming that Minnesota taxpayers wrongly paid for as many as 37,000 abortions since 1999 and arguing that Doe v. Gomez be overturned. A lower court dismissed the case, and the Alliance Defending Freedom appealed. In March of 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the Minnesota-based nonprofit Gender Justice, filed an amicus brief on behalf of Pro-Choice Resources, urging the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirm that dismissal, which the court did on Monday.

Karen Law, executive director of Pro-Choice Resources, praised the decision in a statement. “Every day, women come to us when they need help accessing abortion, making an adoption plan or connecting to parenting services. Denying a woman healthcare coverage for abortion just because she is low-income is denying her human right to make healthcare decisions,” said Law. “This ruling means that women will continue to have health coverage to support them in making the decision that is best for themselves and their families.”

Attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom are reportedly considering an appeal of Monday’s decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.