Fifth Circuit Hears Appeal on Planned Parenthood Medicaid Contract Case

By Kim Schwartz, Texas Right to Life

With a favorable ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Texas hopes to finally enforce the termination of the Medicaid contract for three Planned Parenthood affiliates.

An important Pro-Life case had an en banc appeal last week in the Fifth Circuit, meaning rather than their standard 3-judge panel hearing, all 16 judges heard the case (one seat on the court is vacant). These 16 judges will ultimately vote on the case’s outcome.

The subject of the hearing was to settle a dispute between two previous rulings from the Fifth Circuit on the recent Texas case Planned Parenthood v. Phillips and another case out of Louisiana, Gee vs. Planned Parenthood. The question at hand is whether citizens may file a federal lawsuit to demand Planned Parenthood (or any other provider of their choice) be included in their state’s Medicaid program after each state had decided to terminate Planned Parenthood’s contract.

The Fifth Circuit Court is widely considered to be one of the most conservative appellate courts in the nation. However, when the Louisiana case came before the court, a 3-judge panel ruled in favor of the citizens, meaning an individual may sue a state if his or her preferred Medicaid provider was disqualified from the program.

This precedent limited another 3-judge panel when they decided the Texas case, which is why Judge Edith Jones advocated for an en banc hearing in her dissent.

An en banc hearing has the potential to set court precedent on this issue and assert that states have the right to remove Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs and that citizens do not have unqualified standing to bring suit to ensure their favorite abortion provider receives tax dollars.

The hearing was lively, with many of the judges interrupting the counsel on both sides with questions. A consistent frustration with many of the judges was the decision of Planned Parenthood not to pursue the administrative process provided in the Medicaid Act to challenge their contract termination.

Instead, they chose to recruit individual plaintiffs and file a federal lawsuit, which is not outlined in the Medicaid Act. Not only did this present an incomplete record, but Judge Edith Jones pointed out that the plaintiffs had not even watched the undercover video that the plaintiffs alleged to be inaccurate. This is just one more instance in which Planned Parenthood considers themselves above the law and not subject to the same rules as other Medicaid providers.

Texas Right to Life applauds Texas’s efforts to stop taxpayer funding of abortion providers who seek to exploit women and destroy innocent human Life for financial gain. This case still must go through another long set of hearings on the merits of the case, so the lawsuit is far from over. And, even if Texas wins, the contract could just as easily be reinstated in the future.

A law is needed to ensure this action is made permanent. Although the Fifth Circuit did not announce a date to expect a ruling on this important case, we will post news and the final decision on TexasRightToLife.com.