- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers seeking to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood, if its New Orleans clinic starts providing abortions, won the support Wednesday of the House health committee.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is pushing the bill by committee Chairman Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, which would ban public funding in Louisiana for any organization or entity that performs abortions. Planned Parenthood has indicated it wants to offer abortions at its new clinic under construction in New Orleans.

“All of us understand the importance of life,” said Ben Nevers, the governor’s chief of staff as he urged support of the bill.

Debate of the legislation came a day after the federal Medicaid agency sent a letter to states warning that such efforts to strip Medicaid financing from Planned Parenthood may be at odds with federal law.

Opponents cited the letter and said the ban would cut funding for needed health care services that Planned Parenthood provides to the poor.

“With all due respect, the state of Louisiana cannot determine whether Planned Parenthood receives Medicaid funding,” said Raegan Carter, with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

The measure contains exceptions for abortions performed for victims of rape or incest, for women whose lives are in danger or for pregnancies considered “medically futile.”

A federal judge has blocked previous Louisiana efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. Lawmakers didn’t directly respond to claims Hoffmann’s bill would run afoul of federal regulations, instead focusing on their opposition to abortion.

“I think you can do good women’s health and not do abortions. A lot of places do that all the time,” said Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte.

Angela Atkins, with the Baton Rouge chapter of the National Organization for Women, said limited numbers of health providers are willing to take Medicaid patients and offer contraceptives like Planned Parenthood’s clinics.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana after videos shot elsewhere were released by an anti-abortion group claiming Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue. The organization denied the allegation and said the videos were misleading.

A federal judge ordered that the state continue funding cancer screenings, gynecology exams and other health services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans that serve an estimated 5,200 women.

Governors in several other states also are tied up in similar lawsuits.

Federal health officials sent a letter to state Medicaid directors Tuesday, telling them that states are limited in taking actions to remove providers from their Medicaid programs.

“The letter clarifies that state actions against providers that restrict beneficiary access - including termination of a provider from the program - are justifiable only if they are based on the provider’s inability to perform the covered medical services or appropriately bill for those services,” Marissa Padilla, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email.

Without objection, the House Health and Welfare Committee sent the bill to the full House for consideration as lawmakers on the panel championed “pro-life day” at the legislature.

The committee also advanced two proposals aimed at enacting further restrictions on abortion. One measure would prohibit abortions performed because the fetus is determined to have a genetic abnormality.

The second measure would ban a commonly used second trimester abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation” unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risks to the mother. Similar laws have been passed in West Virginia, Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma - though state courts have blocked the laws in Kansas and Oklahoma.

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Online:

House Bills 606, 1019 and 1081: www.legis.la.gov


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