Judge: Louisiana Must Fund Planned Parenthood For 14 Days

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana must continue providing Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics for 14 more days while a legal battle continues over Gov. Bobby Jindal's recent order to block the funding, a federal judge ruled.

         U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in Baton Rouge heard arguments Friday. His order was signed Sunday and made public Monday morning. Without his ruling, funding was expected to end Monday. A hearing date will be set after a Monday afternoon conference call, according to the order.

         Planned Parenthood had challenged the state's right to end the funding for cancer screenings, gynecology exams and other health services.

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         Jindal, running for the Republican presidential nomination, began the defunding effort after videos were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress.

         The center said the videos showed that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood, which does not currently provide abortions in Louisiana, denies the allegation and says the videos are misleading.

         Lawyers for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, the Planned Parenthood arm that provides medical services in Louisiana, argued that Jindal's fight to cut funding for its non-abortion-related services is politically motivated.

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         "In fact, uncontradicted evidence in the record at this time is that PPGC does not perform abortions in Louisiana, is not involved in the sale of fetal tissue and none of the conduct in question occurred at the PPGC's two Louisiana facilities," deGravelles wrote in his 59-page ruling. He said it appears likely Planned Parenthood will be able to prove that the funding cutoff was being attempted for reasons unrelated to the organization's competence.

         Planned Parenthood says 5,200 low-income Medicaid patients obtain services through their two Louisiana clinics. The organization doesn't currently provide abortions in Louisiana but does offer other health services, such as cancer screenings and gynecological exams.

         "It is shameful that Governor Jindal is trying to score political points by blocking women's access to critical health care," Melissa Flournoy , state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said in a statement hailing the order as a victory.

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         Raegan Carter, with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, has described Jindal's decision as political grandstanding. She's called Jindal's action against clinics illegal.

         In reacting to the judge's ruling, Mike Reed, a spokesman for Gov. Jindal, said Planned Parenthood has engaging in classic misdirection regarding the millions they have repaid in Medicaid fraud and their own admissions in the videos.

         "Instead of going through the same administrative review as any other Medicaid provider, they are running to the federal courts and asking for special treatment," Reed said. "We will appeal this decision and continue to fight to ensure Planned Parenthood no longer receives taxpayer funding."

         Arguing for the state, attorney Jimmy Faircloth said Friday that the judge should stay out of the matter for now because Planned Parenthood had not yet gone through a state administrative appeal process. The appeal process would have suspended the planned funding cutoff until a decision was reached. Planned Parenthood lawyer Carrie Flaxman said there was no legal requirement that the organization go through the state process before heading to federal court. DeGravelles agreed.

         Carter has said the clinics were reimbursed nearly $730,000 during the organization's last budget year for services provided to Medicaid patients. Carter said without the Medicaid revenue, the clinics would have been forced to reduce staff and hours and the Baton Rouge clinic may shut down entirely.

         Faircloth said the videos were a catalyst for a hard look at Planned Parenthood's practices. But, he emphasized that the move to cut off Medicaid money was based on other factors.

         For instance, the state cites a $4.3 million settlement in Texas of claims that the organization billed government programs for services that weren't medically necessary or that weren't provided.

         Planned Parenthood did not admit any wrongdoing in that 2013 settlement and says Louisiana officials knew about it even before it was formally entered in court. DeGravelles agreed that the settlement was no cause for cutting off funding.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill



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