05/09/2011 05:56 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2011

Federal Court May Strike Down Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood

Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) is on the verge of signing a bill that would bar Medicaid patients from receiving any kind of health care at Planned Parenthood clinics, and the family-planning giant is ready to retaliate in federal court.

Republican state lawmakers pushed the defunding bill in order to block taxpayer money to an organization that performs abortions (although the Hyde Amendment has blocked federally funded abortions for 30 years). But Planned Parenthood's lead attorney says the law violates federal Medicaid rules as well as the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“We're going to file a lawsuit in federal court as soon after the governor signs this bill as we can get into court,” said Roger Evans, director of litigation for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The funding ban is scheduled to take effect immediately, and we see Medicaid patients every day, so we will be seeking instantaneous relief against the law taking effect while we pursue the litigation.”

House Bill 1210, introduced by state Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) in January, would prohibit the state of Indiana from contracting with "any entity that performs abortions or … operates a facility where abortions are performed." But federal Medicaid rules state that Medicaid beneficiaries can obtain health services from whichever qualified institution or agency -- including Planned Parenthood -- the person chooses.

Further, Evans said, since abortion is legal on a federal level, the bill violates the 14th Amendment by punishing those institutions that offer it.

“A very essence of something being a constitutional right is that the states cannot punish you for doing it,” he said. “The problem here is that Indiana is penalizing Planned Parenthood for providing women with access to abortion services -- an obviously constitutional realm of conduct. They’re trying to cut off more than a million dollars worth of funds. It's punishment in disguise.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said they never comment on pending legislation, but Indiana state officials have expressed concern in recent weeks that violating the federal Medicaid rule by discriminating against Planned Parenthood could cause the agency to cut off all $4 million in federal funds it gives to Indiana for family planning each year.

But Evans said Planned Parenthood is planning to stop the bill in its tracks before CMS has a chance to rule on it.

“If these contracts are canceled and Medicaid reimbursement is cut off, the consequences will be instantaneous to women in Indiana,” he said. “By the time the federal government goes through the process of levying a penalty, in a way, the damage would be done and irreparable.”

If Planned Parenthood is successful in court, the federal court will issue an injunction against the statute, and life will go on as normal at Planned Parenthood clinics. If the lawsuit is unsuccessful, the new law will take effect the minute Daniels signs it, ensuring that many Medicaid patients with appointments at Planned Parenthood over the next few weeks will have no way to pay for their services.

Daniels’ office did not respond to calls for comment on whether the state legislature has a plan to alert patients of the immediate policy change or whether the state legislature is concerned about the new law violating federal rules. Evans said it's clear from his perspective that Indiana lawmakers proceeded on this bill without any consideration of the practical or legal consequences.

"The legal precedent is already there, but I don't think that penetrates the reasoning of right wing legislators who have an agenda and a vendetta," he said. "They just plunge forward."

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