U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt's ruling Friday blocked parts of a tough new abortion law and granted Planned Parenthood of Indiana's request for an injunction on the state's move to defund the organization. The decision sides with federal officials who said states cannot restrict Medicaid recipients' freedom to choose their health care provider or disqualify Medicaid providers merely because they also offer abortions.
Indiana attorney general's office spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state likely will appeal.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana has been without Medicaid funding since May 10, when Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the law that cut off about $1.4 million and made Indiana the first state to deny the organization Medicaid funds for services such as breast exams and Pap tests.
Planned Parenthood, which serves about 9,300 Indiana clients on the state-federal health insurance plan for low-income and disabled people who receive Medicaid, was forced to stop seeing Medicaid patients this week after private donations that had paid those patients' bills ran out.
Planned Parenthood officials said Friday night they anticipate being able to offer services to Medicaid patients again beginning Saturday, and will file for reimbursement as they did before the law took effect.
"This decision will have immediate, positive consequences for our patients and our organization, the state's largest reproductive health care provider," said Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum.
The state had argued that federal law forbids Medicaid from covering abortions in most circumstances and that the program indirectly funds the procedures because Planned Parenthood's financial statements show it commingles Medicaid funds with other revenues. The state has argued Medicaid might subsidize some of the overhead costs for space where abortions are performed.
A recent federal Medicaid bulletin said states may not exclude qualified health care providers merely because they also provide abortions. Pratt noted in her ruling that the federal government had threatened to withhold some or all of Indiana's Medicaid funds because of the new law, which could total more than $5 billion annually and affect nearly 1 million residents.
"Thus, denying the injunction could pit the federal government against the State of Indiana in a high-stakes political impasse," the judge wrote in her ruling. "And if dogma trumps pragmatism and neither side budges, Indiana's most vulnerable citizens could end up paying the price as the collateral damage of a partisan battle."
Daniels' office said the governor did not have an immediate statement on ruling.
Marcus Barlow, a spokesman for the state's Family and Social Services Administration, said that while the injunction is in effect, Planned Parenthood will be able to provide services and apply for Medicaid reimbursement as it did previously. He said the agency was unsure if it would push for an appeal of the decision or whether Planned Parenthood would continue to get funding during any appeal period.
"We're still deciding on what our next step will be," Barlow said.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kate Shepherd said the organization believes it can continue to get funding under Pratt's ruling even if the state files an appeal because the injunction would stand unless it were overturned by another judge.
Pratt's ruling also addressed other provisions in Indiana's law that require doctors to tell women seeking abortions that a fetus can feel pain at or before 20 weeks gestation and that "human physical life" begins at conception.
The judge found that because Planned Parenthood only provides first-trimester abortions, requiring its doctors to address fetal pain at or before 20 weeks gestation may be "false, misleading and irrelevant." She issued a preliminary injunction on that part of the law as applied to Planned Parenthood only.
However, Pratt denied Planned Parenthood's request to block the measure requiring doctors to tell women seeking abortions that "human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm."
"The inclusion of the biology-based word 'physical' is significant, narrowing this statement to biological characteristics," she wrote in her ruling. "When the statement is read as a whole, it does not require a physician to address whether the embryo or fetus is a 'human life' in the metaphysical sense."
Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter called the judge's overall decision troubling.
"We are deeply disappointed that today's ruling brushes aside the will of the Indiana Legislature," he said. "This ruling opens the pipeline for our tax dollars to flow back into the hands of Indiana's largest abortion provider and denies women seeking abortions the right to know about an unborn child's ability to feel pain."