A federal appeals court ruled on Monday (Nov. 23) that Texas and Louisiana can cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics.
The decision by the full Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reverses an earlier ruling by a three-judge appellate panel that blocked Texas from enforcing its ban on Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood.
It also expressly reversed a ruling in a separate case blocking Louisiana from banning Planned Parenthood funding. While the ruling expressly reversed decisions in Texas and Louisiana, it also affects Mississippi, which is under Fifth Circuit jurisdiction.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court in 2015 had ruled against the ban and that decision stood when the full court deadlocked 7-7 in 2017, when there were only 14 active judges on the court.
The court’s makeup has changed since then, with six nominees of Republican President Trump now sitting on the court. Four of them participated in Monday’s case (one was recused and another joined the court too late to take part) and all four joined Judge Priscilla Owen’s opinion for an 11-member majority.
Destined for U.S. Supreme Court?
The case is expected to go next to the U.S. Supreme Court, adding to a dozen or so abortion-related cases likely to be considered by the high court.
Tennessee’s restrictive abortion law, passed by the state’s legislature in June and signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in July, is another that could make its way to the Supreme Court.
Section 217 of the sweeping Tennessee abortion law bans abortion because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome or when the decision to abort is based on the race or gender of the baby. The law also makes it a Class C felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if they know a patient is seeking the procedure for a banned reason.
On Nov. 20, a three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that Section 217, the “reason bans,” can stand, at least for now.
A coalition of 18 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia — signed onto a brief at the court supporting Tennessee’s law.
‘Protecting the most vulnerable’
“Protecting the most vulnerable members of society is an interest of the utmost importance for States. And it is hard to imagine a scenario where this interest comes into sharper focus than protecting unborn children from eugenics-motivated abortions,” the brief stated, which was authored by Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Regarding the provision and the ruling, Elizabeth Graham, vice president of operations and head of life initiatives for the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “Too many have been using a diagnosis of Down syndrome as a reason to rob preborn children not only of their inherent dignity but also of their lives. This court ruling ensures that will no longer be the case in Tennessee.”
Lee tweeted his approval after the Sixth Circuit action.
“Every life is precious and every child has inherent human dignity,” he wrote. “Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives. Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”
Tennessee’s legislation includes several other abortion prohibitions, including a “heartbeat ban,” which prohibits an abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks; a requirement that a woman undergo an ultrasound test and be provided information on the unborn child’s gestational age; and a ban on abortion for a juvenile in custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
The Sixth Circuit’s ruling on the “reasons ban” does not affect separate cases involving other provisions of the law.
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