The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider efforts by Republican-led states to defund Planned Parenthood.
Despite its new, more conservative tilt, the court let stand federal appeals court rulings that allowed the reproductive health organization’s patients to contest laws in Louisiana and Kansas that stripped its Medicaid funds.
The court’s refusal to hear the case represents a setback for conservative interest groups in many states that have sought aggressive action against Planned Parenthood and abortion providers in general.
Three of the court’s conservatives – Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – dissented and said the court should have taken up the issue. Chief Justice John Roberts and new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not join the dissent.
“What explains the court’s refusal to do its job here?” Thomas wrote. “I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’ That makes the court’s decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion.
“Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty,” he said. “If anything, neutrally applying the law is all the more important when political issues are in the background.”
Similar defunding efforts have been blocked in Arizona and Indiana and are being contested in Ohio and Texas. Only in Arkansas has a federal court allowed the state to deny funds.
The laws were passed by state legislatures opposed to Planned Parenthood’s provision of abortions. Abortions already were denied federal Medicaid funds. The laws blocked funding for other services, from contraception to cancer screenings.
The federal Medicaid Act allows patients to seek out any qualified provider – the key word being “qualified.” Louisiana and Kansas sought to block Planned Parenthood’s funding based on a variety of allegations, including disputed claims that the group sold fetal tissue and body parts for profit.
Opponents of abortion rights expressed disappointment at the high court’s inaction but noted that other cases are percolating in lower courts that could give the justices another chance.
Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, said the group “will continue to fight to protect states from being forced to use their limited public funds to subsidize abortion businesses.”
Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, hailed the court’s decision to leave lower court rulings alone.
“As a doctor, I have seen what’s at stake when people cannot access the care they need and when politics gets in the way of people making their own health care choices,” Wen said.
The Supreme Court has upheld abortion rights in a series of decisions dating back to 1973. Its most recent ruling struck down restrictions on abortion clinics and providers in Texas two years ago.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of abortions. More than 2 million women use its clinics for a variety of reproductive services, including many on Medicaid. More than 70 million people – 1 in 5 Americans – are enrolled in Medicaid.