Arkansas once again cut off access to Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood over discredited sting videos filmed in secret by an anti-abortion group.
The state terminated Planned Parenthood’s status as a medical provider last week after an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding Arkansas’ right to do so took effect, Arkansas Department of Human Services spokesperson Amy Webb said Monday. The court ruled in August that Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s 2015 termination of Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid contract was legal, ending a preliminary injunction blocking Hutchinson’s move. In the fiscal year prior to the action, Planned Parenthood received $51,000 in Medicaid funds, none of which paid for abortions (under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding of abortion is illegal in virtually all cases.)
The organization decried the move as an effort to harm those in need of reproductive care across the state.
“Planned Parenthood Great Plains remains committed to serving our patients regardless of their ability to pay while we continue fighting to protect the right of Arkansas women and families to access critical health care services,” said Aaron Samulcek, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Every individual ought to have the freedom to choose their health care provider and for many in Arkansas, that choice is Planned Parenthood Great Plains.”
Hutchinson’s initial action two years ago was prompted by a series of sting videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, or CMP. The anti-abortion group argued that the heavily-edited videos showed Planned Parenthood illegally selling fetal tissue for profit, something the organization strongly denied. A Texas jury found Planned Parenthood not guilty in 2016; CMP’s founder and another member were charged with multiple felonies in California, some of which were later thrown out.
While the sting videos have been discredited, Arkansas is only one example of their very real ramifications. Lawmakers across the country pushed for harsh legislation after the videos were released and the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood for a year, allowing time for an investigation (that effort failed to gain traction with either the Senate or the Obama administration.) A number of 2016 Republican presidential candidates also condemned the organization despite no evidence of wrongdoing. A 57-year-old gunman, Robert Dear, later shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. Dear said he was a “warrior for the babies” angry about “the selling of baby parts.”
Sting videos more broadly have resurfaced in the news for reasons unrelated to Arkansas. CMP’s videos were inspired by conservative activist James O’Keefe, who has spent years attempting to damage progressive organizations with secret recordings. O’Keefe is the founder of Project Veritas, an organization that claims to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”
Project Veritas targets progressive groups along with mainstream media. The organization made headlines earlier this week when the Washington Post published a story revealing that a woman had come forward accusing Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) of rape. Inconsistencies in her story aroused suspicion and the Post declined to publish her account. She was later seen entering the New York offices of Project Veritas, with whom she is believed to have a connection. Moore has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by nine women, one of whom says she was only 14 at the time of the incident. Project Veritas’ efforts were an attempt to use false allegations of sexual assault to undermine the mounting charges made by those who say they were hurt by Moore.
O’Keefe essentially admitted to the actions in a letter sent to his supporters.
“Following months of undercover work within The Washington Post, our investigative journalist embedded within the publication had their cover blown,” he wrote. “This is how undercover work goes. This isn’t the first time that has happened, and it won’t be the last time.”
Support for O’Keefe’s efforts run deep. A ThinkProgress investigation into O’Keefe’s backers found that the Trump Foundation donated $20,000 to Project Veritas in 2015. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump claimed rival Hillary Clinton had hired people to “be violent, cause fights, [and] do bad things” at his rallies, an allegation based on O’Keefe videos and made without evidence.
O’Keefe’s latest sting attempt may have failed, but his methodology is working. Arkansas is proof that discredited sting videos can be successful. After the August ruling, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) praised the decision as a victory against “a medical provider [that] has engaged in misconduct,” a sentiment echoed by Gov. Hutchinson.
“This is a substantial legal victory for the right of the state to determine whether Medicaid providers are acting in accordance with best practices and affirms the prerogative of the state to make reasoned judgments on the Medicaid program,” Hutchinson said.
The state had 906,417 Medicaid and CHIP enrollees as of September 2017, many of whom need access to reproductive resources like those provided by Planned Parenthood, which has only two locations in Arkansas — Fayetteville and Little Rock. The organization has not said if it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.