LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal judge on Friday ordered Arkansas to temporarily reinstate its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood after the state blocked funding over concerns about secretly recorded videos released by an anti-abortion group.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's request to block the state from denying funding to the organization, but her order will expire in 14 days. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last month that he was terminating the contract.
Baker wrote that suspending the payments to Planned Parenthood would harm the organization and the three unnamed women who are suing over the termination. Baker said her order will expire late in the afternoon Oct. 2 unless she extends it.
"At this stage of the proceedings, the court finds that the threat of irreparable harm to PPH and Jane Does, and the public interest, outweighs the immediate interests and potential injuries to (the state)," Baker wrote.
The state's cancellation of the contract took effect Sunday, and Planned Parenthood says it would have affected Medicaid patients scheduled to visit its health centers starting Sept. 21. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas sued the state on behalf of the organization and the three women.
"We are grateful the court has ruled on the side of the women, men and teens in Arkansas who rely on Planned Parenthood for care," Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement. "For our patients, this isn't about politics — it's about staying healthy and building a future."
Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said they disagreed with the ruling, but that it was the first step in a broader court fight over the issue.
"Ethical conduct by Medicaid providers is a relevant factor for the state to consider. Hopefully, the court or a higher court will reconsider the preliminary decision once the facts are fully developed," Hutchinson said in a statement. "It is disappointing that a judge appointed by President Obama does not give sufficient weight to the morally repugnant conduct of Planned Parenthood displayed in a series of recently released videos."
The state says Planned Parenthood received more than $51,000 in Medicaid payments in Arkansas over the past fiscal year for family planning and gynecological services. None of the money went toward abortions.
Earlier this year, Hutchinson signed into law a measure prohibiting public funding to abortion providers and entities that refer women to abortion providers, a move aimed at blocking any money to Planned Parenthood. But the new law didn't apply to Medicaid funding. Planned Parenthood had previously received public funding for sex education.
Republicans around the country have targeted Planned Parenthood after several videos were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. The center said the videos showed that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has said the organization receives legal payment only for the cost of the procedure and requires a mother's consent before the tissue is given to researchers.
Earlier Friday, the U.S. House approved legislation blocking Planned Parenthood's federal funding as Republican leaders sought to avoid a government shutdown over the issue.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland did not appear in any of the videos and doesn't participate in any fetal tissue donation, its attorney told Baker in a hearing Thursday. The organization only offers medication abortions at its Arkansas facilities.
An attorney for Planned Parenthood said Thursday that the state relied on "political disfavor" against the group and abortion, and not the law, when it blocked the Medicaid funding. The state has argued it was within its rights under federal law, saying the videos raised concerns about the organization's ethics and standards.
Arkansas is among several states that have moved to block Medicaid funding because of the videos. Planned Parenthood has filed similar lawsuits in Louisiana and Alabama challenging the defunding moves. The U.S. Justice Department has argued that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's decision to cut off Medicaid funds to the group appeared to violate federal law.