Planned Parenthood wins suit to block Mississippi law

A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law that banned the state's Medicaid program from spending money with any health care provider that offers abortions.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled Thursday in a lawsuit filed in mid-June by two Planned Parenthood affiliates. The law took effect July 1.

Jordan said every court to consider similar laws has found they violate the "free-choice-of-provider" provision of federal law. Medicaid is paid by federal and state dollars.

Jordan pointed to a Sept. 14 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld an injunction against a similar Louisiana law. The circuit handles appeals from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised Jordan's ruling.

"Yet another court has said it is unacceptable for politicians to dictate where women can go for their health care," Richards said in a statement Thursday.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said he was "obviously disappointed with the ruling" and he still believes he was right to sign the law. He has said repeatedly that he wants to end abortion in the state.

"I will continue to stand with the Legislature and the people of Mississippi who do not want their hard-earned money going to the largest abortion provider in the nation," Bryant said in a statement.

The two affiliates that filed the Mississippi lawsuit had previously been eligible for Medicaid payments for services such as birth control and cancer screenings. Neither affiliate offers abortions in Mississippi, but Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region says it does them at a clinic in Memphis, Tennessee. Planned Parenthood Southeast says it offers them at its clinics in Alabama and Georgia, but not at its clinic in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Mississippi Medicaid records show that from July 2013 to August 2015, the program spent $439 with Planned Parenthood in Hattiesburg.

In April, the director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to Medicaid agencies in all 50 states reminding them that they can't cut funding to medical providers such as Planned Parenthood just because the providers might also offer abortion services.

Despite the federal warning, Bryant signed the law in May, forbidding Mississippi Medicaid from spending money with any facility that provides elective abortions, or with any entity affiliated with an abortion provider. Mississippi law, for years, has already prohibited the use of tax dollars to pay for most abortions.

The lawsuit said the Mississippi law restricts health care providers that offer a constitutionally protected service: abortion.

The Mississippi lawsuit was the 17th filed by Planned Parenthood since July 2015 against states seeking to block public money from being spent at its clinics, the organization said.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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