In a surprise move, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Planned Parenthood this week, refusing to hear two cases from states that wanted to defund them. A lower court ruled that Kansas and Louisiana are not allowed to ban the healthcare provider from receiving Medicaid reimbursements when they treat low-income patients. This means that people in other states can challenge their state’s decision to block Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.
With Republicans in control of many state governments, there have been more and more attacks on Planned Parenthood. Besides Kansas and Louisiana, Arizona and Indiana have had similar defunding efforts blocked and now in Ohio and Texas, those efforts are being contested. In Arkansas though, Medicaid funding has been blocked for the state’s two clinics.
President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Leana Wen said that the organization is “pleased that lower court rulings protecting patients remain in place.”
The three dissenting justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch said that the court should have heard the case. In Justice Thomas’ opinion, he perpetuated the myth that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal organs.
This myth was popularly stoked by an undercover video controversy in 2015, where an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress released doctored videos claiming that Planned Parenthood profit from the sale of donated tissue.
These videos were part of a long term smear campaign against Planned Parenthood and the effect was multiple cases like Anderson v. Planned Parenthood and Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast, the cases that the Supreme Court refused to hear. In those cases, there were claims from those videos used as justification to no longer classify Planned Parenthood as a “qualified provider.”
What’s really interesting here is that pro-life Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not dissent, and sided with the four liberal justices: Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some speculate that this is because he and other justices want to avoid cases related to abortion right after Kavannaugh’s confirmation.
Indeed, Justice Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion that he believes Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh think it’s too soon to touch the abortion issue so soon into Kavanaugh’s appointment.
The purpose of the Supreme Court is not to create new laws, but rather to interpret the law and determine constitutionality. In this case, the interpretation is so clear cut in favour of Planned Parenthood that Kavanaugh and Roberts are likely choosing to pick their battles instead of fighting a losing one.
This isn’t about federal money going to abortion, which is still not allowed. The Medicaid funding would have gone to other vital services like cancer screenings, STI testing, prenatal care, birth control, and ultrasounds.
However, this news leaves us with some questions. Will similar cases also not be heard? What if Roe v. Wade is challenged? Will that decision be overturned or weakened? Anna North in an article for Vox believes that Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch would eagerly hear a challenge to that landmark decision issued 45 years ago.