Crime & Justice

Supreme Court Declines Key Planned Parenthood Case

Planned Parenthood opened its new headquarters in Washington, D.C., in September. The Supreme Court declined to take up a key case that is a big win for Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood opened its new headquarters in Washington, D.C., in September. The Supreme Court declined to take up a key case that is a big win for Planned Parenthood.
Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take a case with big potential implications for women's health care and Planned Parenthood related to whether states can block people from using Medicaid for health care services at Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.

The result is that people can continue to use Medicaid money for pregnancy-related Planned Parenthood services. Now, this is not for abortion-related services. Federal law prohibits people to use Medicaid money for abortion.

But the court not taking up this case means that most states cannot, for now, effectively prohibit people from using Medicaid funds for other Planned Parenthood services, like screenings, ultrasounds and counseling.

This case specifically was about whether Planned Parenthood (and similar organizations and individuals using those services) have a right to sue to challenge the decision not to fund Planned Parenthood.

"We are pleased that lower court rulings protecting patients remain in place," said Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Every person has a fundamental right to health care, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much they earn. 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. We won't stop fighting for every patient who relies on Planned Parenthood for life-saving, life-changing care."

Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion rights group, focused on Planned Parenthood's role in abortions, though, again Medicaid funds cannot be used to fund abortions.

"Taxation without representation lives on today in a decision by a majority on the court that ignores the wishes of state leaders who no longer want to be coerced into funding abortion," SFLA's Kristan Hawkin said in a statement. "Abortion is not healthcare, and women's needs are better met by real, full-service medical locations, not abortion vendors. This is a legitimate question and a missed opportunity — whether abortion vendors have a right to taxpayer monies."

The court not taking this does not categorically mean that states cannot prohibit using Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood. States in the Eighth Circuit, for example, can still do that because there is a circuit split, and the Eighth Circuit ruled that Medicaid recipients don't have the right to challenge who the state decides are qualified Medicaid recipients. States in the Eighth Circuit include Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The genesis of this case goes back to the discredited videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials inappropriately looking to sell fetal parts. After the videos, Louisiana and Kansas moved to block people from using Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood services. Planned Parenthood sued, and lower courts ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood.

Louisiana and Kansas appealed to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court, by not taking up the case, leaves the lower-court rulings in place.

Three conservative justices dissented – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Notably, the court's two other conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh — did not issue dissents or sign onto the others'.

The court, led by Roberts, this term in particular, has tried to fly below the radar, and this is another example of that.

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