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Obama admin warns states on Planned Parenthood defunding

Several states are rushing to defund Planned Parenthood, regardless of congressional action. Is that legal? The Obama administration has some questions.
A Planned Parenthood location is seen on Aug. 5, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)
A Planned Parenthood location is seen on Aug. 5, 2015 in New York City.
The renewed Republican campaign against Planned Parenthood has moved past the realm of rhetoric and debate, making the transition to legislative bodies. At the federal level, for example, quite a few GOP lawmakers say they're prepared to shut down the federal government next month over federal funding for the health care organization.
At the state level, meanwhile, officials in Alabama, Louisiana, and New Hampshire recently decided to block public resources for Planned Parenthood -- it apparently doesn't matter that some of these states don't have clinics that perform abortions -- and related efforts are underway in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, however, that the Obama administration isn't just committed to protecting Planned Parenthood in a political dispute; it's also concerned about the legality of state action against the health organization.

Federal law requires that Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services, including family-planning care, from any qualified provider. Terminating Planned Parenthood's Medicaid provider agreements restricts access by not permitting them to get services from providers of their choice, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. [...] The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a unit of HHS, has notified Louisiana and Alabama, which have taken action to terminate their Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood, that they may be in conflict with federal law, according to HHS. CMS said that, by restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings.

The key here are guidelines from 2011, in which HHS said states "cannot block Medicaid funding to providers on the basis of the other services offered." In other words, Alabama can't block funding for cancer screenings because it opposes abortion, since public money can pay for the former but not the latter.
It's a story worth keeping an eye on. It's also worth appreciating the fact that efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are also counter-productive, for all the reasons the Center for American Progress' Neera Tanden recently explained in an msnbc piece.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.