Judge: Kansas can’t defund Planned Parenthood

From Eagle staff and wire reports

Hannah Meyer, right, and Ashley Parton, second from right, were two of several people to take part in a Planned Parenthood support rally at Old Town Square in September 2015.
Hannah Meyer, right, and Ashley Parton, second from right, were two of several people to take part in a Planned Parenthood support rally at Old Town Square in September 2015. The Wichita Eagle

Kansas cannot cut off Medicaid funding for two Planned Parenthood affiliates, a federal judge said Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in Kansas City, Kan., issued the temporary ruling in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and the organization’s St. Louis regional affiliate.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment planned to cut off funding by Thursday for health services offered at Planned Parenthood facilities, such as exams and cancer screenings, for poor patients receiving health coverage through Medicaid, a government health insurance program for people with low incomes or who are disabled. Medicaid funds do not cover abortions.

Planned Parenthood received roughly $56,000 in calendar year 2014 and about $38,000 in 2015 for services such as annual exams, birth control, preventive care and breast exams, according to the state health department.

Gov. Sam Brownback promised to defund Planned Parenthood in his State of the State address. Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for governor, said in an email that Brownback’s office would review the ruling and move forward with litigation.

“The Governor will continue the fight to make Kansas a pro-life state,” Hawley said in the email.

The state health department, which had planned to cut the funds at Brownback’s direction, would not comment.

Planned Parenthood representatives could not be reached by phone Tuesday, but replied with a written news release.

“While Governor Brownback continues touting baseless accusations and wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits, Planned Parenthood refuses to allow politics to get in the way of access to health care,” said Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

Wider view

Federal courts have blocked attempts by other states to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, including Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana and Utah.

In its defense, Kansas’ health department cited a dispute in December over its attempts to inspect the handling of solid waste at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, which was later resolved. The department also cited allegations against Planned Parenthood affiliates in Oklahoma and Texas that Planned Parenthood said are unfounded.

Planned Parenthood attorneys argue that the organization is being targeted because it provides abortions.

Kansas already has blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning dollars for non-abortion services in the state. The affiliate provides both surgical and medication abortions at its clinic in Overland Park, in far eastern Kansas near Kansas City, Mo. It began providing the medication abortions at its Wichita clinic in March.

Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate is involved in the lawsuit because its clinic in Joplin, Mo., serves some Kansas patients.

Kansas initially planned to cut off Medicaid funding on May 10, but the state delayed the action three times after the lawsuit was filed.

Then on June 13, the state health department reversed its decision to block 11 individual health care providers from receiving Medicaid funds. Those providers, who work or have worked at the Planned Parenthood clinics, were co-plaintiffs in the case.

But the state still intended to defund Planned Parenthood, so the lawsuit continued.

Heath department officials have cited videos secretly recorded and released last year by anti-abortion activists that show Planned Parenthood officials in other states talking about the sale of fetal tissues. Planned Parenthood officials contend the videos were selectively edited as part of a smear campaign, and two anti-abortion activists involved in creating the videos were indicted on criminal charges in Texas.

Brownback last year directed the state’s medial board – the Kansas Board of Healing Arts – to investigate whether commercial fetal tissue sales were occurring in Kansas. Planned Parenthood’s Kansas-Mid Missouri affiliate doesn’t have a program for fetal tissue donations, and a board attorney said in January that no action would be taken.

Kansas health officials also cited concerns about Medicaid claims and overbilling raised publicly in November by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, another Republican. Planned Parenthood has said her claims are exaggerated. Oklahoma had threatened to cut off Medicaid funds to two Planned Parenthood affiliates last month but extended it for another year.

Kathy Ostrowski, the legislative director for Kansans For Life, the state’s leading anti-abortion group, said that federal Medicaid regulations make this a difficult case for the state to win. She said that her group would like to see changes at the federal level to give individual states more control over which providers can receive Medicaid dollars.

“We’re unhappy that the state feels they’re working with an untrustworthy provider,” she said.

Contributing: Associated Press; Gabriella Dunn and Bryan Lowry of The Wichita Eagle