Planned Parenthood Fights Back, Files Lawsuit Against State of Alabama

Earlier this month, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley canceled the state's contract with Planned Parenthood as a way to block two Planned Parenthood centers from receiving federal Medicaid grants. This is, essentially, what state lawmakers mean when they say "defund Planned Parenthood" — strip away the mandated federal funding that doesn't subsidize abortions, but preventive services such as contraception and cancer screenings. It's a move that, in most cases, is illegal, which is why Planned Parenthood and its allies are not taking the abrupt loss of funding lightly. On Friday, Planned Parenthood filed a federal complaint against Alabama, alleging that the move to defund Planned Parenthood was politically motivated and violates federal law.

The complaint, which was also joined by the Alabama branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, claims Bentley gave no explanation or warning when he suddenly defunded Planned Parenthood on Aug. 6. However, on the same day Bentley terminated the state's contract with Planned Parenthood Southeast, which operates just two health centers in Alabama, the governor, a noted abortion foe, released a statement touting his anti-abortion stance.

"I respect human life and I do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not," Bentley said in his statement. The federal complaint notes Bentley referenced the "sting" videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, a new group made up of anti-abortion activists specifically targeting Planned Parenthood's fetal-tissue donation program.

According to Planned Parenthood Southeast, the two Alabama clinics don't participate in the fetal-tissue donation program, nor were the two Alabama clinics referenced or shown in the videos. That didn't stop Bentley from posting this series of tweets on August 6, shortly after he terminated Planned Parenthood's Medicaid contract.

While both Alabama Planned Parenthood centers — located in Birmingham and Mobile — offer abortion services, federal Medicaid grants cannot be used to subsidize abortions under the Hyde Amendment, unless in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is at risk. Just 15 U.S. states use their own Medicaid funds to subsidize abortion services for low-income women, but Alabama — surprise, surprise — is not one of them.

Instead, representatives from Planned Parenthood Southeast say these federal Medicaid grants help the organization provide low-income Alabama women with affordable contraception, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and even wellness exams. "Notably, nothing in Governor Bentley's statement relates to the quality of Medicaid services provided by PPSE," the federal complaint states.

More than 320,000 Alabama women were in need of publicly funded contraception services in 2013, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute. A majority of these women had an income less than 100 percent below the federal poverty level, while nearly 60,000 women were living between 138 percent and 199 percent below the federal poverty level. And even though some women may have incomes too high to be eligible for general Medicaid benefits, many Alabama women are able to receive Medicaid-funded family-planning services because of the state's special "family-planning waiver," according to the National Women Law Center.

Planned Parenthood Southeast claims that without the Medicaid funds, it would be unable to provide for thousands of low-income Alabama women. While Planned Parenthood isn't the only family-planning center in Alabama, the federal complaint claims terminating the long-standing Medicaid contract ultimately limits these patients from going to a "qualified, willing provider of their choice" — something that is protected by federal law.

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"We’re in court today because each and every patient, and her ability to make her own deeply personal and private health care decisions, matters," Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said Friday in a statement sent to Bustle. "Unfortunately, we find ourselves in court once again with state officials who are hell-bent on ending a woman’s ability to make her own deeply personal and private health care decisions."

Alabama isn't the first state to try to defund Planned Parenthood — several years ago, Arizona and Indiana both tried, and failed, to block Medicaid funding from going toward their respective Planned Parenthood affiliates. But as Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, pointed out Friday in a statement, Medicaid funding have long been protected in federal courts:

The federal government and several courts have made clear that a state cannot kick Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program simply because Planned Parenthood provides abortion. This is yet another attempt by the State of Alabama to impermissibly target abortion providers for unfair treatment.