INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department entered the court battle
over a tough new Indiana abortion law that disqualifies Planned Parenthood
of Indiana from the Medicaid program, siding with the organization in its
request Thursday for a court order blocking the statute as unconstitutional.
In a brief filed electronically after the close of business, Justice
Department attorneys said U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt should
grant Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction because it blocks
Medicaid recipients’ freedom to choose the provider of their choice. The law
signed May 10 by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels cuts off Medicaid funding for
Planned Parenthood because the organization provides abortions.
"The public interest strongly supports preserving the freedom of choice that
Congress conferred,” the brief said.
It was unclear how the last-minute filing would affect the timing of Pratt’s
ruling. She has said she intended to rule by July 1.
Planned Parenthood attorney Ken Falk said the brief caught him by surprise.
“I had no idea this was coming,” Falk told The Associated Press Thursday
The brief was consistent with earlier actions by federal administrators for
Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income and
disabled people. Medicaid Administrator Donald Berwick sent a letter to his
Indiana counterpart on June 1 saying federal law states beneficiaries can
obtain general health services from any qualified provider and the mere fact
that Planned Parenthood performs abortions separately does not disqualify
Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, in a final brief filed earlier this
week, said the Berwick letter was not final and authoritative because
Indiana can appeal his decision. Indiana opposes the injunction because even
though Medicaid doesn’t pay for abortions in most cases, the program may
provide indirect funding by subsidizing some of Planned Parenthood’s
However, the Justice Department brief said the letter was indeed
authoritative because the Department of Health and Human Services, which
administers the Medicaid program, was applying its “longstanding
interpretation of the complex and technical Medicaid statute” with the
letter, which rejected changes to Indiana’s Medicaid plan to account for the
new state law.
“HHS has long taken the position that a State’s criteria for qualification
must be related to the provider’s ability to render services and properly
bill for those services,” the 23-page brief said.
Email and telephone messages were left for Fisher on Thursday night seeking
comment on the brief.
The law cuts off about $1.4 million in Medicaid funding to Planned
Parenthood, money the organization says it needs to provide cancer screens
and other general health services to 9,300 Medicaid clients, both men and
women, served by its 28 health centers across Indiana.
Falk and Fisher have agreed as much as $5.3 billion in total Medicaid
funding to the state could be at risk since Berwick rejected the changes in
Indiana’s state Medicaid plan. Indiana had 60 days from June 1 to appeal his