Pa. Medicaid abortion case heads to state Supreme Court

If the lawsuit were to succeed in removing the ban on Medicaid-covered abortions, Pennsylvania would join a list of more than a dozen states that already cover abortions through Medicaid, including neighboring states New Jersey and New York

By: - October 14, 2021 5:14 pm

Pennsylvania Supreme Court chambers in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Pennsylvania’s highest court will hear a 2019 case challenging the state Medical Assistance Program’s ban on abortion coverage. 

Abortion care providers across Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit in January 2019 in an attempt to reverse Pennsylvania’s Medicaid abortion coverage ban, but lost in Commonwealth Court in late March of this year, prompting the providers to take their complaint to the state Supreme Court. 

In a 198-page brief filed Wednesday, Women’s Law Project, a nonprofit legal group defending women’s rights; Drexel University Law School professor David S. Cohen; Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and the private law firm Troutman Pepper LLP, wrote that appellants — Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, Allentown Women’s Health Center, Delaware County Women’s Center, Philadelphia Women’s Center, Planned Parenthood Keystone, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania and Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania —  collectively make up 95 percent of abortion care providers in the commonwealth.

In its petition for review Allegheny Reproductive Health Center stated that individuals seeking an abortion who are eligible for or who are on Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance Program or Medicaid are blocked from using their coverage to pay for the procedure due to Pennsylvania’s coverage ban. 

The brief argues that this ban disproportionately affects low-income individuals and people of color seeking an abortion in Pennsylvania.  

“This case seeks to restore equitable health care coverage that was lost due to discriminatory political interference from the state,” WLP staff attorney Christine Castro said in a statement. “The lawmakers who advanced this ban into law clearly declared that, if it was legal, they would’ve forced all Pennsylvania women to carry pregnancies against their will. Instead, they targeted women in poverty, which disproportionately harms Black women, immigrants, and people of color. The ban is cruel, and it’s also unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

Currently, the only exceptions to the ban are for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a abortion-rights policy and research organization. 

Susan Frietsche, a WLP attorney named on court case documents, said that the case, formally known as Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, et al. v. PA Department of Human Services, et al., shouldn’t get lost in the larger wave of anti-abortion laws and policies sweeping across the United States. 

“While all eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court, we must remember that Pennsylvania’s Constitution explicitly guarantees equality on the basis of sex and prohibits laws that confer different burdens or benefits on men and women,” Frietsche said in a statement. 

“Health care is a human right, and people deserve the right to decide if and when they want to become pregnant free of stigma. For too long, Pennsylvania’s harmful Medicaid ban on abortion coverage has not given Pennsylvanians this freedom,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza said. “We are overdue for a Pennsylvania where health care decisions can be made without systems of oppression interfering. Bottom line, our communities deserve access to care however and whenever they need it.”

If the lawsuit were to succeed in removing the ban on Medicaid-covered abortions, Pennsylvania would join a list of more than a dozen states that already cover abortions through Medicaid, including neighboring states New Jersey and New York. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.