Yesterday night, the lawsuit over Indiana's law to defund Planned Parenthood got more complicated. As states go after abortion access and Planned Parenthood clinics in particular, the federal government has shied away from these state-level fights. But recently, states have begun to defund Planned Parenthood (and other abortion providers) by denying them Medicaid funds, making this a federal issue. For the second time, the Department of Justice has quietly weighed in.
Last week, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood went to court, arguing that the Indiana law violated federal law regarding how states use Medicaid funds. They argue, among several points made in the complaint, that cutting funding to Planned Parenthood violates the freedom of choice provision in the Medicaid Act. The Department of Health and Human Services had sent a letter to Indiana that sided with Planned Parenthood. The state filed papers opposing this reading of the law. Now, the DOJ is backing up HHS:
Justice Department attorneys said U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt should grant Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction because it blocks Medicaid recipients’ freedom to choose the provider of their choice…the Justice Department brief said the [HHS] letter was indeed authoritative because the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the Medicaid program, was applying its “longstanding interpretation of the complex and technical Medicaid statute"
Indiana was the first state to defund Planned Parenthood, but Kansas and North Carolina have followed its lead. It's really vital that the federal government remain engaged. It says a lot about the administration's dedication to reproductive rights, but it could also be vitally important in keeping state-level anti-abortion activism at bay.