Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Last week Attorney General Jim Hood declined to appeal House Bill 1523 to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in part because the state (and particularly his office) is facing the deluge of lawsuits brought on by the 2016 legislative session that ended in April. Hood released a statement saying that his office is already spending its "limited resources" on defending those cases.
The state's limited resources could and should be spent in other places, say, at the Department of Health for example, so we can bring down our ridiculously high rates of sexually transmitted infections (Mississippi has the second-highest rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the country, 2014 Centers for Disease Control data show.)
The state's leaders prioritize their conservative politicking above all else despite costs to the taxpayer that a federal lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood after the bill took effect July 1 will inevitably have. Back in March when the bill passed the Senate, anti-abortion language plagued the debate on a bill with nothing to do with abortion. Senate Bill 2238, now law, prevents the state's Division of Medicaid from reimbursing Planned Parenthood (and the Jackson Women's Health Organization) for providing family-planning services.
Family planning does not equal abortion services; in fact, federal funding cannot pay for voluntary abortions (that aren't caused by rape or incest); thus, Medicaid reimbursements rarely go toward abortions and much more often to services like birth control and sexually transmitted infection and cancer screenings. In Mississippi, there is one Planned Parenthood clinic—that doesn't even offer abortion as a service.
"The taxpayers of the state of Mississippi do not want and should not be forced to spend money on Planned Parenthood," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said after the bill passed in March. "... I am committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child."
If taxpayer dollars were actually going to go toward funding women's health and reducing the teen pregnancy rate, this bill should not be law. As the PP lawsuit states, "Only the neediest individuals in Mississippi are eligible to receive Medicaid coverage. In order to qualify for Mississippi Medicaid, among other requirements, an adult must be low-income and pregnant, disabled, or the parent/caretaker of a child." The family-planning waiver program is available to those with income at or below 194 percent of the poverty level.
Mississippians on Medicaid accessing services at the state's one Planned Parenthood clinic had been receiving services that support women's health—unless pregnancy, disease and cancer testing don't count. But if they do, you've been sold a pack of lies, Mississippi.
Senate Bill 2238 will cost taxpayers dollars to defend—and more likely than not for a lost cause. Two similar laws have been ruled unconstitutional in Indiana and Arizona already. So yes, instead of spending resources offering more health services to Mississippians, conservative lawmakers have chosen to spend your money on anti-abortion politics that will likely end up in legal flames.