Obama Administration Warns States That Defunding Planned Parenthood Is Probably Illegal

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY

The Obama administration just sent a strong signal to states trying to defund Planned Parenthood, warning all 50 states that attempts to strip Medicaid funding from the women’s health care provider is most likely illegal.

The letter, sent to each state’s Medicaid director, cautions lawmakers that “providing the full range of women’s health services… shall not be grounds for a state’s action against a provider in the Medicaid program.” In other words, the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services in addition to other women’s health services is not legal grounds to cut it off from Medicaid funding. It stipulates that the only justifiable reason to remove a provider’s Medicaid funding is if that provider isn’t able to bill for or perform covered medical services.

“Once again, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made it clear that it’s illegal for politicians to tell women where they can and cannot go for care,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, in a statement.

Despite the numerous investigations clearing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, defunding Planned Parenthood became a major talking point — and for some lawmakers, a crusade — since antiabortion activists from the Center for Medical Progress released a series of misleading and widely debunked videos last summer.

It’s illegal for politicians to tell women where they can and cannot go for care.

Twenty four states have moved forward with attempts to cut off Planned Parenthood funding, the majority of which comes from Medicaid and Title X, a network of taxpayer-funded family planning programs. Ten states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin — have specifically taken action or recently passed legislation cutting off Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding.

The Obama administration has warned specific states before that cutting off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood may violate federal law, but this is the first time it has sent a letter to every state in the country.

Planned Parenthood does not use federal funding to provide abortions — thanks to the Hyde amendment, taxpayer dollars have been illegal to use to provide abortion services for decades (except in very rare cases such as danger to the mother’s life, rape, or incest). Instead, federal funding, like that from Medicaid, goes to provide family planning services like birth control, STD testing, and cancer screenings for patients who normally wouldn’t have access to these services.

When lawmakers talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, these are the services that would be actually be affected. This would likely have disastrous consequences, which would disproportionately fall on poor and rural areas and communities of color, who already face barriers to quality and accessible health care.

Despite continued attacks on the organization, the vast majority of Americans favor providing federal funding for clinics that provide women’s health care — and most of them support providing for Planned Parenthood by name.