A fight over defunding Planned Parenthood has made its way to the Missouri Supreme Court. The high court is deciding whether the Republican-led Missouri Legislature unconstitutionally denied Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood during state budget year 2022.

Attempts to defund the reproductive healthcare organization is not a new court fight in Missouri. This time, the tactic used to deny Planned Parenthood the Medicaid funding is what is in question.

During today’s court hearing, Assistant Missouri Attorney General Joshua Divine said Planned Parenthood has no constitutional right to receive funds from Missouri.

“This is a case of first impression as far as this specific issue,” said Divine. “In 2020, the legislature tried to defund Planned Parenthood a different way and the Supreme Court said, ‘You can’t do that.’ Then the Supreme Court gave instructions to the legislature. The legislature followed those instructions and that’s where we are here today.”

Emily Wales, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said similar court battles have ended up before the high court.

“This is not a new case,” she said. “This is Planned Parenthood wanting to be paid for Medicaid services and the legislature was told by the court we’re standing in today, ‘You can’t do it this way. You’ve got to pay for people who are part of the Medicaid program.’”

Representing Planned Parenthood, attorney Chuck Hatfield, said denying specific providers access to Medicaid funding violates their state right to equal opportunity.

“In 2020, I think I used the example drug courts. There’s a statute that allows circuit courts to establish drug courts. There’s a process for that substantive law,” said Hatfield. “The legislature can go through and say, ‘But we’re not going to fund the court in the city of St. Louis, because we don’t like what they’re doing.’”

Divine said siding with Planned Parenthood would “gut the most important tool the Legislature has.”

“But the real problem here though, is if Planned Parenthood wins, then the legislature can’t do basic things. “This is really about the legislature’s ability to respond to the people of Missouri and decide where should our limited taxpayer funds go. Should they be going to an abortion facility or should they be going instead to this facility in low-income rural areas in southeast Missouri southwest Missouri, things of that nature,” he asked.

Missouri’s Medicaid program does not reimburse for abortions. When Planned Parenthood sued the state, it said Missouri was ending reimbursements for birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, cancer screenings, among other non-abortion healthcare.

“Missourians currently cannot access abortion for the vast majority of reasons in almost any case. Despite that, the legislature is still focused on ensuring that certain providers, or as you heard in there, the term affiliates or associates of abortion providers, because there aren’t any in the state right now. They can’t provide other services like STI testing and treatment, birth control, cancer screenings. Those are the types of services that we provide currently in the Medicaid program. We just want to be paid to make sure that we can keep those services available to patients,” said Wales. “They need us in the Medicaid program. They need us to see Missourians because we don’t have enough providers in this state – they just don’t want to pay for it.”

State law bans most abortions, except for in the case of medical emergencies of the mother.

“It’s really about control. It’s really about politics,” said Wales. “It’s really about what runs for campaigns where you’re trying to be the most conservative person in a primary. That’s what this is about. This is not even about abortion because abortions are not happening for Missourians. You’ve got to get out of the state. You’ve got to scramble. You’ve got to figure out childcare. That’s the way that this legislature is prioritizing people who need abortions in this moment, but they are sending the same message to people who need birth control, who need STI testing and treatment.”

The court has not yet ruled on the case.

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