Missouri Supreme Court hears case on latest effort to block Planned Parenthood funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Attorney General's Office defended the Republican-led Legislature's latest attempt in a years-long struggle to block taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood during arguments before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey's office had appealed after a lower court judge found it was unconstitutional for lawmakers in 2022 to specify that Planned Parenthood would get zero dollars for providing family planning services to Medicaid patients despite reimbursing other health care providers for similar treatments.

Solicitor General Josh Divine told Supreme Court judges that creating a state budget is a core power granted to lawmakers. Divine said if the high court rules in favor of Planned Parenthood in this case, it will “wreck the appropriation process that has been used for decades.”

Chuck Hatfield, Planned Parenthood's lawyer, told judges that's “not so.” He said the case is “one in a long line of discussions about legislative authority" to budget without trampling constitutional rights and state laws.

Missouri banned almost all abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. And before then, the state’s Medicaid program also did not reimburse for abortions.

But Planned Parenthood had previously been repaid by the state for other medical procedures for low-income patients. The group said in March 2022, when it sued the state, that Missouri was ending reimbursements for birth control, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and other non-abortion care.

Abortion opponents in Missouri have for years sought to stop any taxpayer money from going to Planned Parenthood. But legislators struggled with “loopholes” that allowed Planned Parenthood clinics that provide other health care to continue receiving funding.

Lawmakers were able to stop money from going to Planned Parenthood in the 2019 fiscal year by forgoing some federal funding to avoid requirements that the clinics be reimbursed if low-income patients go there for birth control, cancer screenings and other preventative care. Missouri instead used state money to pay for those services.

But the Missouri Supreme Court in 2020 ruled lawmakers violated the constitution by making the policy change through the state budget, forcing the state to reimburse Planned Parenthood for health care provided to Medicaid patients.

“There has never been any dispute that the Legislature can constitutionally restrict Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood if it wants to do so, it just has to go through the proper procedures,” Divine said during Wednesday arguments.

Missouri Supreme Court judges did not indicate when they might rule on the latest defunding effort.

Wednesday marked the first Supreme Court arguments heard by Judge Ginger Gooch, who was appointed by Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in October. With Gooch and newly appointed Judge Kelly Broniec, women have a majority on the state Supreme Court for the first time in history.