The Trump administration send an advisory letter Friday that could make defunding Planned Parenthood easier at the state level, the Hill reported. Although the move won't result in any immediate changes to laws or regulations, it clears the way for state legislatures to block Medicaid recipients from using their coverage at the popular health care clinic.
"This is part of the Trump administration's effort to roll back regulations the Obama administration put out to radically favor abortion," Charmaine Yoest, assistant Health and Human Services secretary for public affairs, told reporters on a conference call, according to The Hill.
The issue at hand is largely a question of how different administrations interpret Medicaid law. One school of thought, generally held by proponents of abortion access, is that under federal law, Medicaid recipients must be given the option of obtaining health care at any clinic in the state that's "qualified" to perform general health services — include Planned Parenthood. The other school of thought, shared by many who oppose legal abortion access, is that states have the authority to set their own standards for what counts as a "qualified" clinic, and are thus permitted to block certain clinics from being eligible for Medicaid reimbursements.
In 2016, the Obama administration sent a letter to state Medicaid directors clarifying that under President Obama, the federal government would be adopting the first interpretation. The letter said that state Medicaid agencies must allow their recipients to obtain services from any qualified clinic, including Planned Parenthood — even if state legislators passed laws that seeking to block Planned Parenthood from accepting Medicaid reimbursements.
"Providing the full range of women’s health services neither disqualifies a provider from participating in the Medicaid program, nor is the provision of such services inconsistent with the best interests of the beneficiary, and shall not be grounds for a state’s action against a provider in the Medicaid program," the 2016 letter read.
On Friday, however, the Trump administration rescinded this guidance, informing state Medicaid directors that, under this administration's interpretation of the law, states may set their own standards for what constitutes a "qualified" clinic.
"Reinstating the pre-2016 standards frees up states to once again decide for themselves what reasonable standards they use to protect Medicaid programs and their beneficiaries," Yoest said while explaining the decision to reporters.
This doesn't mean that state Medicaid agencies will be allowed to immediately block recipients from getting services from Planned Parenthood; however, it does suggest that if any states try to do this, the Trump administration won't stop them.
Texas Republicans attempted to deny Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood in 2016, but a federal judge blocked them from doing so. In response, Texas officials wrote a letter to the Trump administration that, in essence, requested permission to go ahead with the Planned Parenthood defund anyway. The Trump administration has not yet responded to this, but the letter it sent on Friday suggests that it will ultimately approve Texas's request.
Planned Parenthood clinics provide services to 2.4 million men and women in the U.S. every year, according to the clinic's own data. Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, criticized the Trump administration's decision on Friday.
“They couldn’t get the votes to do it in Congress, so now they are pushing states to try and block care at Planned Parenthood," Laguens told the Hill. "Without Planned Parenthood, many of our patients would lose access to health care altogether -- either because there are no other providers in their community or because other clinics cannot serve all of our patients."
Planned Parenthood provides a range of services to clients, including birth control, STI testing, cancer screenings, pregnancy testing and abortions. Although abortions only comprise 3 percent of all services at Planned Parenthood clinics, anti-abortion activists cheered the Trump administration's decision.
“President Trump and his administration have taken a monumental stand for conscience rights and an important step toward getting American taxpayers out of funding the abortion industry, especially Planned Parenthood,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. "We urge Congress to swiftly finish what this pro-life administration has started by passing the Conscience Protection Act and redirecting half a billion dollars in annual taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood."