LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction barring Arkansas from denying Medicaid funding for any services Planned Parenthood provides in the state until a lawsuit on the matter is resolved.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a motion for the injunction in U.S. District Court in Little Rock in March. The nonprofit health-care provider asked Judge Kristine Baker to expand a preliminary injunction she issued last October barring the state from denying Medicaid funding for services to three patients.
Planned Parenthood and the three patients, identified in court papers as Jane Does Nos. 1-3, sued the state after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in August 2015 that Arkansas would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. The Republican governor, an abortion opponent, said at the time that undercover videos released by anti-abortion activists showed Planned Parenthood does not meet Arkansas’ standards.
After Baker issued the October injunction, Planned Parenthood filed a motion for class-action status so the suit could be expanded to include to all who seek or will seek services from Planned Parenthood in Arkansas, and Baker granted the motion in January. Planned Parenthood then argued that Planned Parenthood and its patients would suffer irreparable harm unless Baker expanded the injunction.
Planned Parenthood argued that Medicaid patients have the right under federal law to obtain services from any qualified provider without government interference, that Planned Parenthood cannot indefinitely provide services without reimbursement from the state, and that patients would be unable to obtain certain services or would have difficulty getting appointments and have to endure long waits if they sought the services elsewhere.
Baker agreed with those arguments in her order last October granting a preliminary injunction that applied to funding for services to the Jane Does. In her order Thursday, she said that “based on the record before the court, the court confirms that these harms would affect the patient class as a whole.”
The judge said the violation of patients’ right to obtain care from the provider of their choice is enough to justify a preliminary injunction, but she noted that Planned Parenthood also submitted affidavits from employees who said they contacted other health-care providers in Pulaski and Washington counties — the counties where Planned Parenthood’s Arkansas clinics are — and were told of numerous hurdles a patient would face in seeking family planning and reproductive services from those providers.
The state had argued that patients would not be harmed because they could obtain the same services from other providers.
Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement Thursday, “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.”
Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which is representing the plaintiffs, said, “Everyone deserves access to care and the opportunity to control their own reproductive health. The high-quality reproductive health care Planned Parenthood provides is vital to the communities they serve, especially here in Arkansas which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, contributing to the fact that nearly 1 in 5 people live below the federal poverty level.”
A spokesman for Hutchinson referred a request for comment Thursday to the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said, “Attorney General Rutledge is disappointed with Judge Baker’s decision. Her order unfortunately allows Planned Parenthood to continue to use its patients to pad its bottom line at taxpayers’ expense. Thankfully, the ultimate issues in this case will be decided by the Court of Appeals.”