Missouri Supreme Court hears arguments for Planned Parenthood funding ban

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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday for Planned Parenthood's fight with the state over funding.

Last year, the Missouri General Assembly passed a budget bill for fiscal year 2019 that denied state funding for “any abortion facility."

The Planned Parenthood of St. Louis clinic is the only location in Missouri that currently offers abortion services. Because of this, the organization cannot be reimbursed for any services it provides to patients of the state's Medicaid program, MO HealthNet, regardless of whether or not an abortion procedure is involved.

Missouri Solicitor General, D. John Sauer, argued in a brief there is no conflict between the budget bill and MO HealthNet, saying patients can switch to other providers besides Planned Parenthood.

"Nothing in the statutes establishes that petitioners are entitled to payment for furnishing services for MO HealthNet individuals," Sauer said in court Tuesday.

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood, argued Tuesday the state was using the appropriations bill to change the law by essentially excluding the organization from reimbursements, which he said is unconstitutional.

"An appropriation law may not amend a general statute," he said in court. "That's always been the law, it's still the law today."

Planned Parenthood first appealed the bill to the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission, which sided with the state. The organization then petitioned the St. Louis City Circuit Court, where Judge David Dowd ruled the bill unconstitutional.

Planned Parenthood also provides health care such as pap smears, cancer screenings and birth control methods. Despite the lack of funding, all of the organization's 11 clinics in Missouri are still treating patients.

"We made a decision to continue treating those Medicaid patients who rely on us for their essential health care, knowing that solution may not be feasible in the long term," Yamelsie Rodríguez, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said. "People still need access to care."

Sauer said in court Tuesday that Hatfield's argument would force lawmakers to perpetually provide funding for Planned Parenthood, years down the line.

“One General Assembly cannot tie the hands of its successor," Sauer said. "They're [Planned Parenthood] arguing for something that has no basis in the Missouri constitution."

There is currently no firm date for when the Supreme Court will make its ruling. Hatfield said a decision could be reached in as soon as 45 days or as late as a year.