On Wednesday, that state of Arkansas appeared to take a step in exactly the wrong direction. After anti-abortion activists illegally and secretly took video footage of Planned Parenthood in 2015, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the decision to end its Medicaid contract with the women's health organization. And now it seems, a federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas can legally block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics. Anti-abortion activists might be celebrating, but women who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics in the state of Arkansas to provide vital health care services could be left to despair.
Back in September of 2016, United States District Judge Kristine Baker found that the Arkansas Department of Health Services could not suspend funding to the state's two Planned Parenthood clinics. At the time, three patients (who were referred to as Jane Does) had sued the ADHS over the move to defund Planned Parenthood, stating that the move would violate their right to quality health care providers. Judge Baker agreed in her ruling, according to Rewire, that the "denial of Medicaid patient’s free choice of provider is irreparable harm."
She also went on to note that the "reduced access to health care, as a result of a state statute restricting access to Medicaid in violation of federal regulations” would also cause irreparable harm.
At the time, Suzanne de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, shared a statement applauding Judge Baker's decision:
This is a win for the Arkansans who rely on Planned Parenthood of the Heartland for birth control, cancer screenings, and other essential health care. Every person deserves access to quality, affordable health care from the provider they know and trust, and today, the court recognized that.
Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived.
An 8th United States Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 to allow the state of Arkansas to block Medicaid funding to the only two Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, one in Fayetteville and another in Little Rock. According to the Associated Press, the court ruled that:
Under the Jane Does’ vision, while the provider is litigating its qualifications in the state courts, or after the provider unsuccessfully appeals a determination that it is not qualified, individual patients separately could litigate or relitigate the qualifications of the provider in federal court.
As ever, it remains important to note a few salient details. First, none of the Medicaid funding that Hutchinson blocked was used for abortion services. The secret videos used as ammunition in the defunding case, which were circulated by the anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, have been widely debunked. They were considered heavily edited and highly suspect.
Most importantly, blocking Medicaid funds from the two Planned Parenthood clinics in the state will deny women access to vital health care services like HIV and cancer screening, birth control, pregnancy-related services, and health care education to name just a few. And, yes, it will deny them access to abortion, which their Medicaid plans didn't even cover in the first place.
It's a dark day for women in Arkansas. Their health care is, yet again, being tampered with as part of a political agenda.