A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the authority of states to not fund abortion
providers through Medicaid.
A majority opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, issued Nov. 23, ruled that abortion providers and their customers could not challenge Texas’ decision to withhold Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood.
The decision by the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reverses an earlier ruling by a three-judge appellate panel that blocked Texas from enforcing its ban on Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood. It also expressly reversed a ruling in a separate case blocking Louisiana from banning Planned Parenthood funding. A three-judge panel in 2015 had ruled against the ban and that decision stood when the full court deadlocked 7-7 in 2017, when there were only 14 active judges on the court.
The court's personnel has changed since then, reported Kevin McGill of the Associated Press. Six nominees of Republican President Donald Trump now sit on the court. Four of them participated in Monday's case (one was recused and another joined the court too late to take part) and all four joined Judge Priscilla Owen's opinion for an 11-member majority.
Owen wrote that the seven women who sued Texas officials to challenge the ban had no legal right to question the state's determination that Planned Parenthood was not qualified to provide the services. She noted that a federal statute “unambiguously provides that a Medicaid beneficiary has the right to obtain services from the qualified provider of her choice,” but added that it “does not unambiguously say that a beneficiary may contest or otherwise challenge a determination that the provider of her choice is unqualified.”
According to reporting by the Catholic News Agency, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision in a statement.
“Undercover video plainly showed Planned Parenthood admitting to morally bankrupt and unlawful conduct, including violations of federal law by manipulating the timing and methods of abortions to obtain fetal tissue for their own research,” Paxton stated.
“Planned Parenthood is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, and it should not receive public funding through the Medicaid program.”
Texas in 2015 moved to defund Planned Parenthood, after undercover videos alleged that officials were unlawfully profiting from the sale of aborted fetal tissue.
The state’s determination of “qualified” Medicaid providers is between the state and the provider, the court ruled on Monday.
The case dates back to 2015, when citizen journalists with the group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials. In the conversations, where the CMP members posed as fetal tissue harvesters, the videos appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the unlawful sale of fetal tissue for profit.
The research director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast appeared to suggest that the affiliate could alter abortion procedures to produce higher-quality tissue specimens for harvesters, having doctors perform abortions “in a way that they get the best specimens.”
Later that year, the Texas Office of the Inspector General said that Planned Parenthood was “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, and legal manner.” The state barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding.
In response, several Texas Planned Parenthood providers and their customers brought a lawsuit.
In 2019, the Fifth Circuit ruled in the state’s favor. On Monday, the court considered whether Medicaid beneficiaries had a right to challenge the state’s determination in court. The Fifth Circuit ruled that they did not.
Under federal law, “Medicaid beneficiaries have an ‘absolute right,’… to receive services from a provider whom the State has determined is ‘qualified,’ but beneficiaries have no right under the statute to challenge a State’s determination that a provider is unqualified.”
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton