On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to take up two lower court rulings that blocked states from cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood—affirming the right of Medicaid recipients to use the organization’s healthcare services while sidestepping what would likely have been the first major case involving reproductive rights since Brett Kavanaugh joined the court. Kavanaugh and chief justice John Roberts sided with the majority of justices in turning down the case, with conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissenting.
The previous rulings came after Louisiana and Kansas sought to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, citing in large part a discredited video from 2015 that falsely claimed the organization sells fetal remains. After Planned Parenthood sued the two states, two courts found in favor of Planned Parenthood.
The impact of the court’s decision is pretty basic, but also essential: Medicaid patients are still able to obtain services for things like contraception and pregnancy-related care at Planned Parenthood. (The same prohibitions as always exist around abortion services.)
As Politico reported, however, in some ways, the Supreme Court not taking on the case punts a final ruling on the issue to a date in the future, given that there are conflicting rulings in federal courts:
[Tim] Jost, the retired law professor, said the split rulings mean Medicaid enrollees in the 8th Circuit can’t challenge a decision by their state to terminate Planned Parenthood from Medicaid. States in the circuit include Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. “But presumably in the rest of the country, Medicaid beneficiaries still have access to Planned Parenthood,” Jost said.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Dr. Leana Wen applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to let the lower court rulings stand. “Every person has a fundamental right to health care, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much they earn,” Wen said.
“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.”
Banning Medicaid recipients from using Planned Parenthood services would have a severe impact on the low-income clients the organization serves. As a Planned Parenthood spokesperson told Jezebel, in 2015, 50 percent of its clinics’ patients—about 1.5 million people—were Medicaid recipients.
As several have noted, the decisions in question technically had nothing to do with abortion—though they have everything to do with long-standing efforts by Republican-controlled states to chip away at Planned Parenthood, and by extension, access to abortions as well as other reproductive care. Thomas, in his dissent, shared his suspicion that the other justices were hesitant to take on a case that could prove contentious, writing: “So what explains the Court’s refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’”
Thomas has no real reason to fret—there are plenty more cases coming down the pipe. I’m sure he’ll get another swing at it soon.