Shots - Health Blog
9:29 am
Thu June 16, 2011

Pressure On Planned Parenthood Grows, As Another State Cuts Funding

And then there were three.

The North Carolina Legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue Wednesday, approving a state budget that bans public funds from going to Planned Parenthood.

That makes North Carolina the third state in a month to move toward restrictions on government funding of the reproductive services group.

Kansas GOP Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill barring funding for the organization in his state in May. That move came only a few weeks after the Indiana GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the first Planned Parenthood defunding measure in the nation.

The state laws are not identical. For example, neither the North Carolina nor Kansas measure would directly affect patients on Medicaid. All three, however, would limit funding under the federal family planning program, Title X of the Public Health Service Act.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services has made it abundantly clear that it considers state attempts to bar Medicaid beneficiaries from using Planned Parenthood clinics to receive covered family planning services a violation of federal rules. (The vast majority of abortion services have been banned using federal funds since the 1970s.)

In a letter to Indiana Medicaid Director Patricia Casanova earlier this month, Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Donald Berwick wrote: "[B]eneficiaries may obtain covered services from any qualified provider that undertakes to provide such services."

But so far the department has not said whether it considers laws that attempt to toss Planned Parenthood out of Title X to also be impermissible.

A group of 30 Democratic Senators, led by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, thinks those laws shouldn't be allowed to stand, either. "State legislation to prohibit Planned Parenthood from participating in this federal program violates the rules and the intent of the program," Blumenthal and his colleagues wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last month. "In fact, courts have ruled that such efforts contravene the federal statute and are unconstitutional."

On the other side, however, 28 Republican Senators, led by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, are outraged that HHS is considering cutting off Indiana's Medicaid funding. "Indiana's proposal should not only be approved, we believe it serves as an important model for every state," said the GOP senators' letter to Berwick.

Hatch expanded on that in a speech about his proposals to change the Medicaid program at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Wednesday. "More broadly, I support the right of states to administer their Medicaid programs in a manner consistent with the values of their citizens," he said.

But are those values of their citizens really to ban funding for Planned Parenthood? The organization points to recent public opinion polls supporting continued funding; a recently released NPR-Thomson Reuters poll found similar results.

On the other hand, the fight over Planned Parenthood has always been over the fact that in most places it simultaneously offers highly popular services — family planning and preventive care — and a far more controversial one — abortion — under the same banner, even if funding and administration are kept separate. That combination likely means defunding efforts like the ones now going on aren't going to end anytime soon.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.