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Once again, court weighs funding ban for abortion clinics

Scott Lauck//November 8, 2023//

Missouri Supreme Court building

Missouri Supreme Court (Creative Commons photo)

Once again, court weighs funding ban for abortion clinics

Scott Lauck//November 8, 2023//

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The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on Nov. 8 that could add to a long line of cases about how much leeway the state legislature has to make policy choices through the budgetary process.

In early 2022, the General Assembly passed a supplemental funding bill for Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet, that set a $0 appropriation for any facility which abortions are performed or induced other than a hospital.

Several Planned Parenthood entities filed a declaratory judgment action challenging the move. A Cole County judge found the $0 appropriation violated the Missouri Constitution’s requirement that bills stick to a single subject.

The Supreme Court is familiar with the underlying argument. In 2020, the court ruled that a similar move was unconstitutional, as it was a “naked attempt” to use the appropriations process to both direct state funds and amend the substantive law.

In the earlier case, lawmakers had simply stated that “no funds” would be expended on abortion facilities. The court said that language conflicted with statutes requiring MO HealthNet to pay authorized providers such as Planned Parenthood for covered physicians’ and family-planning services.

Now the court must decide if appropriating $0 for such facilities amounts to the same thing.

Solicitor General Joshua M. Divine argued that Planned Parenthood’s argument would upend lawmakers’ power to prioritize how state money is spent.

“The blast radius from the rule they advocate would sweep over the entire appropriations process,” he said.

But Chuck Hatfield of Stinson, who represented Planned Parenthood, argued that the legislature’s newest attack on funding for abortion providers was essentially identical to the one the court struck down in 2020 — a case Hatfield also argued.

“You can make an appropriation that is less than what is needed, but what you cannot do is go in and exclude and amend the substantive law,” he said.

As Hatfield noted, there have been several other instances where the court has shot down legislative attempts to make policy decisions through the budget. Earlier this year, the court ruled that state lawmakers couldn’t use language in an appropriations bill to strip the Department of Conservation of authority to purchase land. And in 2019, the court said lawmakers couldn’t use the appropriations process to remove a particular administrative law judge.

The case is Planned Parenthood of the St Louis Region et al. v. Knodell, SC99966.

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