Kavanaugh, Supreme Court Let Stand Rulings Favoring Planned Parenthood

(Bloomberg) -- Justice Brett Kavanaugh cast the pivotal vote as the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from two states seeking to cut off Medicaid payments to their local Planned Parenthood chapters.

Kavanaugh voted to leave intact lower court rulings that let Planned Parenthood sue Kansas and Louisiana to try to preserve the Medicaid funds. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said Monday they would have heard the appeals, which contended the federal Medicaid law doesn’t allow lawsuits by providers who are kicked out of the program.

Thomas wrote for the three that he suspected the court wanted to avoid taking up a case involving Planned Parenthood. Four votes are required for the court to hear an appeal.

"Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty," Thomas wrote. "If anything, neutrally applying the law is all the more important when political issues are in the background."

Kansas and Louisiana are among the states that sought to disqualify their local Planned Parenthood affiliates after secretly recorded 2014 videos purported to show national officials of the group discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The videos were made by an anti-abortion activist who was posing as an executive of a company seeking to buy fetal organs.

Planned Parenthood says that the edited videos distorted the actual conversations and that its affiliates don’t sell fetal tissue for profit.

Four Liberals

The justices who voted to reject the appeals made no comment. In addition to Kavanaugh, that group included the court’s fifth Republican appointee, Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as the four liberal justices.

The court had deferred acting on the appeals for months. The cases first came up for consideration at the justices’ private conference in late September, before Kavanaugh joined the court. The court kept the cases on its list for eight subsequent conferences, an unusually long delay that suggests the conservatives might have been trying to win a fourth vote.

Planned Parenthood said the rebuff preserves Medicaid patients’ access to birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

“We are pleased that lower court rulings protecting patients remain in place," Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "Every person has a fundamental right to health care, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much they earn."

Anti-abortion groups said they were disappointed.

"We join the dissent in calling on the court to ‘do its duty,’” said Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, which filed briefs urging the court to hear the cases. “But the good news is that there are other similar cases pending in lower courts, which may give the Supreme Court another opportunity to decide this important issue."

The Kansas case is Andersen v. Planned Parenthood, 17-1340. The Louisiana case is Gee v. Planned Parenthood, 17-1492.

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