Given that the sudden resurgence of white supremacy in America has dominated the news recently, some stories haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. And though I could — and, in the coming days, probably will — write more about the ongoing racial and political tension in America, the deleterious effects of a Trump presidency do not begin or end there.
In 2015, Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, terminated the state’s Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood. Hutchinson’s efforts to effectively defund Planned Parenthood were immediately challenged, and shortly after the contract was terminated, three unnamed Planned Parenthood patients brought a lawsuit challenging Hutchinson’s termination of the contract. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the state from suspending payments to Planned Parenthood.
On Wednesday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2–1 to vacate that preliminary injunction. In its ruling, the court ruled that the patients did not have the right to challenge Hutchinson’s decision to terminate the contract with Planned Parenthood, though the lone dissent from Judge Michael Melloy pointed out that other federal courts have previously ruled that patients do, in fact, have the right to challenge such a decision.
Pending the outcome of Planned Parenthood’s appeal, this could open the door to individual states defunding Planned Parenthood through back-door means. I’ve noted this before, but Planned Parenthood has become a political football in the larger abortion-rights debate between the left and the right. However, believing that Planned Parenthood only performs abortions is akin to believing that McDonald’s only serves apple pies.
Planned Parenthood is far more than an abortion clinic. It provides evidence-based diagnostics and treatments, as well as preventive services. Not only does Planned Parenthood offer a wide range of medical care, but in underserved states like Alabama, Planned Parenthood might be the only option women — and men, and children — have to receive primary care.
Now, Arkansas is not as underserved as Alabama, but that doesn’t mean that some residents won’t be negatively impacted should Planned Parenthood cease to exist. For one thing, even though there are other Medicaid providers in Arkansas, none of them are under any particular obligation to accept new patients; Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, has a policy not to turn away anyone.
In his statement, Governor Hutchinson asserted that the ruling “is a substantial legal victory for the right of the state to determine whether Medicaid providers are acting in accordance with best practices and affirms the prerogative of the state to make reasoned judgments on the Medicaid program.” There’s only one problem with that line of thinking: the state of Arkansas is in no position to make reasoned judgments on the Medicaid program.
That’s because 75% of the money for Medicaid programs in Arkansas comes from the federal government. But with that money comes certain stipulations; namely, that the healthcare facilities to which the money is allocated must abide by federal — not state — guidelines. Planned Parenthood, which provides evidence-based diagnostic and treatments and U.S. task force and preventive services according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is one of those facilities. Eliminating Planned Parenthood would effectively decrease the number of options for appropriate healthcare according to federal guidelines available to Arkansas residents.
None of this is of particular importance to Governor Hutchinson, who is apparently unmoved by the good Planned Parenthood does for the citizens of his state. How do I know that? Because in the fiscal year prior to Hutchinson terminating the contract, Arkansas gave Planned Parenthood $51,000 in Medicaid funds.
Not a single dollar of that funding paid for abortions.
The Medicaid funding was obviously spent on other procedures, so if Planned Parenthood were just an abortion clinic, they’d be doing a pretty abysmal job of it. I believe Governor Hutchinson knows that, just as I believe that he has made the conscious decision to ignore all evidence to the contrary.
So why would Hutchinson terminate the contract? Why deprive the people of Arkansas of access to comprehensive health care in service of scoring cheap political points in a deep-red state on a hot-button issue?
When he praised the ruling, Hutchinson explained that he blocked the funding due to his belief that there was evidence that Planned Parenthood had engaged in immoral conduct. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge offered a similar condemnation in her comments, saying “All patients should have access to ethical, quality, and responsible health care, and should never be beholden to a company that is only seeking to protect its profits.”
And where, pray tell, might they have gotten such an idea? It would appear that their opinions on Planned Parenthood were molded by a video released by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In the video, undercover anti-abortion activists posed as employees of a medical research company hoping to procure fetal tissue. The video purportedly offered irrefutable evidence that Planned Parenthood was secretly selling fetal tissue so its executives could line their pockets with cash.
Unsurprisingly, the video was also bullshit. As it turns out, the video was heavily edited to intentionally take the Planned Parenthood executive’s remarks out of context and omit key elements of the conversation. While Planned Parenthood does sell fetal tissue for scientific research, the money is simply used to cover the cost of operating clinics, not to turn a profit.
A grand jury in Texas reviewed the videos after their release and subsequently declared that Planned Parenthood was not misusing fetal tissue or acting immorally. Of course, the full truth wouldn’t jibe with the GOP’s stance that Planned Parenthood is murderin’ these beautiful li’l babies made in Jesus’ name, so they ignored it.
It should also be noted that roughly 12% of Hutchinson’s campaign contributions came from the insurance or health industries. I won’t accuse him of acting in the best interests of his donors, but it’s worth mentioning that his donors in those industries would stand to benefit from decreased competition in the marketplace. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, though.
Wednesday’s ruling is the latest victory in conservatives’ ongoing war to politicize healthcare rather than acting in the best interest of the people they were elected to serve. As much as the right loves to tout the virtues of “limited government” and rail against legislative overreach, this is as clear-cut an example as you’ll find of the intersection of democracy and theocracy, of a government attempting to dictate the actions and decisions of private citizens. But conservatives don’t seem to mind this intrusion all that much — as long as they’re “winning.”