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Planned Parenthood to Face Trial in $1.8 Billion Lawsuit by Texas
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A federal judge has ruled that Planned Parenthood must face a trial in a $1.8 billion lawsuit filed by Texas, accusing the organization of defrauding the Republican-led state’s Medicaid health insurance program. The lawsuit centers around billing practices by Planned Parenthood after Texas decided to terminate the organization as a provider under its Medicaid insurance programs for low-income individuals.

Trial Decision

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, in Amarillo, had the authority to determine whether the case should proceed to trial, as both Planned Parenthood and the state of Texas had requested favorable rulings in their favor. However, Judge Kacsmaryk declined to make such a judgment and scheduled the trial in April instead.

Legal Issue

In an order briefly posted on the public court docket before being sealed, the judge ruled against Planned Parenthood on a significant legal matter. He found that the organization was obligated to return certain funds to Texas and Louisiana, which is not directly involved in the case. Nevertheless, Judge Kacsmaryk did not specify the amount to be returned or whether Planned Parenthood knowingly violated the law.

  
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Key Issue: Fraud

The pivotal issue in this lawsuit is whether Planned Parenthood knowingly committed fraud. The lawsuit alleges that the organization overbilled by approximately $17 million, but potential legal penalties for fraud could be significantly higher.

Statements

Planned Parenthood’s general counsel, Susan Manning, vehemently rejected the allegations, describing the case as “baseless.” She added, “We will never back down and look forward to winning this case at trial.”

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Lawsuit Background

The lawsuit against Planned Parenthood was initially filed in 2021 by an anonymous plaintiff under the federal False Claims Act, which allows individuals to bring whistleblower lawsuits on behalf of governments and potentially collect a reward if successful. Attorney General Ken Paxton later joined the case.

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The lawsuit contends that Planned Parenthood unlawfully continued to bill the state of Texas after the state’s decision, which had been delayed due to years of legal challenges, to remove the organization from the Medicaid insurance program for low-income residents. While state and federal funds are prohibited from being used for abortion procedures, most states reimburse Planned Parenthood for other reproductive healthcare services.

Judge’s Background

Judge Kacsmaryk, a conservative jurist who had previously been an anti-abortion activist before being appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, is known for his stance on abortion-related matters. He issued an order in April that effectively banned the abortion pill mifepristone; this order has been temporarily suspended pending a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Undercover Video Controversy

The anonymous plaintiff in this lawsuit is the same individual who, in 2015, released undercover video footage alleging that Planned Parenthood staff were discussing the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has consistently maintained that the videos were heavily edited and misleading and denied any wrongdoing.

These controversial videos prompted Texas and Louisiana to announce in 2015 that they would terminate Planned Parenthood as a provider covered by their Medicaid programs. However, federal court orders prevented these terminations from taking effect for several years. The orders were ultimately lifted on appeal, allowing Texas to end its contract with Planned Parenthood in 2021 and Louisiana in 2022.

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Accusations and Counterarguments

The lawsuit before Judge Kacsmaryk accuses Planned Parenthood of defrauding the states by continuing to bill and collect payments from their Medicaid programs after the initial termination decisions were made and for failing to reimburse the funds received after the terminations were finally permitted to proceed. Texas joined the lawsuit, whereas Louisiana did not.

Planned Parenthood has argued that billing the states during the period when court orders halted termination decisions was not illegal, and they cannot be held liable because the states never requested repayment. However, Judge Kacsmaryk ruled that once appeals courts confirmed the finality of the terminations, Planned Parenthood was indeed obligated to return the money it had received during that time.

Ongoing Controversy

Planned Parenthood, as a prominent provider of abortion services, has long been a target of abortion opponents who have sought to cut off its government funding. Judge Kacsmaryk presides over all federal cases filed in Amarillo, making it a popular venue for litigation initiated by conservative activists.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, Texas implemented stringent restrictions on abortion, effectively banning nearly all procedures in the state.

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