SCOTUS vacates injunction against South Carolina order to defund Planned Parenthood

 June 21, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated a lower court's injunction that blocked South Carolina from defunding Planned Parenthood abortion providers within the state, according to the Washington Examiner.

The case was subsequently remanded back to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for further consideration in light of a separate but somewhat related ruling the high court had issued less than two weeks earlier.

That means that, at least while that litigation remains pending, South Carolina can proceed with its efforts to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funds.

Governor's order to defund Planned Parenthood blocked by courts for years

The Examiner reported that in 2018, Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order to have Planned Parenthood removed from the state's Medicaid program.

According to the Daily Caller, that order was challenged with a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Medicaid patient Julie Edwards against Robert Kerr, the director of the state's Health and Human Services department, on the argument that the governor's order violated the patient's right to choose her own Medicaid provider.

A federal district court sided with the plaintiffs and issued a permanent injunction to block the order, a ruling that was then affirmed by a unanimous three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit in March 2022, which then led the state to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.

Right to sue states limited to certain exceptions

As part of an Order List released on Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced that it had accepted the case of Kerr v. Planned Parenthood and wrote, "The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for further consideration in light of Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion Cty. v. Talevski."

According to Reuters, the Supreme Court on June 8 ruled 7-2 in Talevski in favor of the family of an Indiana nursing home resident who sought the right to sue a state-run nursing home facility over its inadequate care of the resident.

However, in recognizing that the family had a right to sue the state in this particular instance, the court also made it clear that this was a limited exception and not the general rule.

As such, with the injunction in the Kerr v. Planned Parenthood case now vacated and the case remanded back to the Fourth Circuit, it seems likely that the appeals court will now see that the Medicaid patient lacks the right or standing to sue South Carolina to block the removal of the abortion providers from the state's qualified Medicaid programs list.

Pro-life states should be allowed to defund Planned Parenthood

LifeNews reported that the Alliance Defending Freedom law firm, which represented Kerr in this litigation, was "elated" by the apparent victory won by way of the Supreme Court's decision to vacate the district court's permanent injunction and remand the case back to the appeals court for reconsideration.

"Pro-life states like South Carolina should be free to determine that Planned Parenthood and other entities that peddle abortion are not qualified to receive taxpayer funding through Medicaid," ADF Senior Counsel Chris Schandevel said. "Congress did not unambiguously create a right for Medicaid recipients to drag states into federal court to challenge those decisions, so no such right exists."

"The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Talevski makes that even clearer," he added. "And we’re grateful the 4th Circuit will have another opportunity to hold that Congress did not intend to allow federal courts to second guess states’ decisions about which providers are qualified to receive Medicaid funding."

Meanwhile, the Examiner noted that South Carolina and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic remain engaged in a separate lawsuit over the state's new six-week abortion ban that was immediately blocked with an emergency injunction and is set to be heard before the South Carolina Supreme Court next week on June 27.

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