Trump's HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy (POLITICO)

Trump’s HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy

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HHS last month told states they no longer have to comply with Obama administration policy that made it difficult for states to exclude Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs. | AP Photo

Trump’s HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy

A conservative legal organization worked with the Trump administration to make it easier for states to defund Planned Parenthood, according to documents obtained by congressional Democrats and shared with POLITICO.

HHS last month told states they no longer have to comply with Obama administration policy that made it difficult for states to exclude the women’s health group from their Medicaid programs — an announcement timed to the March of Life anti-abortion rally. HHS received a draft legal analysis from the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom a week before the announcement, according to House Oversight Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings.

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Cummings cited a whistleblower who shared emails and documents.

“The documents provided by the whistleblower raise serious concerns about whether the Trump administration is now taking orders from an extreme right-wing interest group that is trying to deny American citizens the ability to exercise their right to obtain family planning services from the provider of their choice, which is guaranteed by federal statute,” Cummings wrote in a letter to HHS Monday.

Neither HHS nor the Alliance Defending Freedom immediately responded to a request for comment.

The collaboration could be pivotal as courts sort out the legality of excluding Planned Parenthood. Since 2015, several states have tried to defund the organization. Two appeals courts have issued conflicting decisions, raising the possibility the issue could reach the Supreme Court.

According to emails obtained by Cummings, several HHS officials last month discussed a draft letter they would soon be getting. A senior HHS official told others that processing the letter should be “an utmost priority.”

A four-page letter with legal analysis was sent the same day. House Democrats say the letter came from the Alliance Defending Freedom and attorney Casey Mattox, who previously worked there. He has since left for the conservative Charles Koch Institute.

The letter HHS ultimately issued was dramatically shorter and less expansive than the draft. In the January letter, HHS said additional guidance could be forthcoming. Cummings said the letters achieved the same result and demanded that HHS turn over more documents related to the latest Medicaid letter.

HHS’ decision to expedite the letter allowed the Trump administration to tout the effort at last month’s March for Life, the nation’s largest anti-abortion rally. "I have also just reversed the previous administration’s policy that restricted states’ efforts to direct Medicaid funding away from abortion facilities that violate the law," President Donald Trump said on Jan. 19, when addressing the rally.

Matt Bowman, HHS deputy general counsel, worked at the Alliance Defending Freedom prior to joining the administration.

Planned Parenthood and its allies argue existing law doesn’t allow states to exclude the organization from Medicaid for political reasons. But several states, such as Arkansas, say they have a right to decide which health care providers participate in their programs.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson terminated Planned Parenthood in 2015 after anti-abortion activist David Daleiden issued a series of sting videos alleging the organization sold fetal tissue. The group has denied the allegations.

The Trump administration roll back won’t have an immediate impact, since it doesn’t have the force of law. Congressional Republicans tried several times in 2017 to enact legislation to allow states to eliminate Planned Parenthood from Medicaid but were not successful.

Dan Diamond contributed to this report.

via POLITICO

February 12, 2018 at 12:55PM