Advocates Sue to Keep Medicaid Funding for Alabama Planned Parenthood Centers

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Advocates Sue to Keep Medicaid Funding for Alabama Planned Parenthood Centers

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The lawsuit filed in federal court Friday says efforts to defund the reproductive health-care provider are politically motivated and violate federal law.

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Reproductive rights advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday, claiming efforts in Alabama to defund Planned Parenthood are politically motivated and in violation of federal law.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley sent a letter on August 6 to Planned Parenthood Southeast (PPSE) notifying the group that his administration was terminating its Medicaid provider agreement, effective 15 days after receipt of the letter.

Bentley’s letter gave no reason for the termination, according to the lawsuit. But that same day, the anti-choice governor issued a statement saying he terminated the agreements because he wanted to end the state’s connections with Planned Parenthood.

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“I respect human life, and I do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not,” wrote Bentley.

In response, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood sued, asking the court to block Bentley and his administration from ending PPSE’s Medicaid contract.

“We’re in court today because each and every patient, and her ability to make her own deeply personal and private health care decisions, matters,” Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in court once again with state officials who are hell-bent on ending a woman’s ability to make her own deeply personal and private health care decisions. Only this time, instead of going after safe and legal abortion as he has each of the past four years, now Governor Bentley is trying to dictate where a woman can go for contraception and other preventive care if she’s enrolled in Medicaid.”

Reproductive rights advocates said there are more than 320,000 Alabama women in need of publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies. One in five women in Alabama doesn’t have health insurance, and 16 percent of women there are living in poverty. The state ranks 15th in the nation for highest teen pregnancy rates.

Attorneys filing the lawsuit argue that Bentley’s termination of the Medicaid provider agreement violates federal law that requires Medicaid patients have their choice of provider to receive family planning care.

“The federal government and several courts have made clear that a state cannot kick Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program simply because Planned Parenthood provides abortion,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, which is representing Planned Parenthood Southeast in the suit. “This is yet another attempt by the State of Alabama to impermissibly target abortion providers for unfair treatment.”

Advocates note that Bentley announced his decision to terminate the agreement with PPSE while speaking before the Madison County Republican Men’s Club, citing the widely discredited attack videos generated by the Center for Medical Progress as part of a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

PPSE has two health centers in Alabama, located in Birmingham and Mobile, and both of these locations provide care in Health Professional Shortage Areas, which are determined to be areas in which primary care professionals are practically inaccessible.

This is the second lawsuit filed this week by attorneys on behalf of Planned Parenthood health centers in response to conservative politicians’ efforts to defund the organization.

On Tuesday, attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals arguing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s efforts to terminate Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid contracts in Louisiana violates federal law.