Appeals court tie allows Louisiana Planned Parenthood to keep Medicaid funding

(Wikimedia Commons/Fibonacci Blue)A Planned Parenthood facility in St. Paul, Minnesota.

A tie vote at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week has allowed Planned Parenthood facilities in Louisiana to keep receiving Medicaid funding.

A 14-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit, which currently has three vacancies, voted 7–7 on Tuesday, upholding a previous ruling that blocked a move by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration to cut off funding from the abortion giant.

Louisiana was one of several states that attempted to block funding to Planned Parenthood following the release of a series of undercover videos that purportedly expose the organization's involvement in baby body parts trafficking.

After Jindal blocked the funding in 2015, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and three of its patients challenged the former governor's move in court.

A federal judge in Baton Rouge ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, and a three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit upheld that ruling.

However, a member of that panel, Priscilla Owen, changed her ruling and issued a new opinion in July in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood. Owen's reversal prompted the state to ask the full court to rehear the case, leading to Tuesday's 7–7 vote.

According to The Associated Press, the tie vote was announced in a brief notice issued by the original three-judge panel, along with a more than four-page dissent written by Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, joined by Owen, and five others.

In the original decision, the panel rejected several state arguments that Planned Parenthood was "unqualified" to provide health care and concluded that defunding the group would deny some women access to needed medical care. It went on to say that, under the law, the Medicaid patients have the right to obtain care from the qualified provider of their choice.

Lawyers for the state pointed out that the panel ruling is at odds with Supreme Court precedent regarding the extent of a Medicaid recipient's right to choose a healthcare provider. They also contended that Planned Parenthood should have been subjected to an administrative process instead of being taken to court.

"As a result of the majority opinion's holding, a Medicaid provider can now make an end run around the administrative exhaustion requirements in a state's statutory scheme," Elrod wrote.

The appellate court also upheld a preliminary injunction in a case that is still pending in district court. Elrod further noted that Tuesday's opinion "is binding precedent that will guide the development of law in our circuit."

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., conducts 320,000 abortions each year and receives about half a billion in taxpayer funding annually.

In 2016, Louisiana lawmakers passed a bill that ensures that organizations that perform abortions cannot receive taxpayer dollars, even for non-abortion purposes.

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