Cagle demands Ga. agencies cut funding access to Planned Parenthood

Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle demanded Wednesday that state health officials stop using public tax dollars to fund any medical services at Planned Parenthood, including those for low-income women paid for through the federal Medicaid program.

It’s the first time one of Georgia’s top elected officials has formally requested cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood completely, a route already taken by other Southern leaders after the release of a covertly filmed video that Planned Parenthood’s critics say shows it profits from the sale of body parts after abortions.

That video and others released over the past several weeks by anti-abortion activists have enraged abortion foes, including Cagle. Planned Parenthood supporters, however, blasted his demand as ill-advised and shortsighted.

“What Georgians’ need is more access to health care, not less,” said Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, which operates clinics and provides health services for more than 22,000 women and men in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

In a letter sent Wednesday morning to the agency heads of both the state Department of Community Health and the state Department of Public Health, Cagle asked them to prepare a plan on how to redirect funding toward other community health centers, medical pregnancy resource centers, “safety net” clinics and other facilities “that offer women access to care in an appropriate setting that is focused on their health and not the sale of human body parts.”

“While I understand that the administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are threatening legal action against states taking this path, I stand prepared to assist you in that lawsuit and to ensure any necessary funding is appropriated to defend the state against legal action by an overreaching federal government,” Cagle said.

Georgia already bans the sale of fetal tissue, although some lawmakers believe it may allow sales of the tissue for research purposes. Just last week, state House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, announced that he would sponsor legislation next year to strengthen penalties against the sale of fetal tissue but make clear the tissue can be donated for research purposes if requested by the mother.

Cagle does not have the formal authority to make state departments stop using federal Medicaid funds for services provided through Planned Parenthood Southeast. His letter, in other words, amounts to a strongly worded request.

The Planned Parenthood clinics, while known as abortion providers, also give patients access to contraception, screening for cervical and breast cancer, and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

Fox said Cagle’s push to ban federal funds for such services disappointed her, adding that “the courts have been clear that the federal law prohibits states from excluding abortion providers from Medicaid.” Other Planned Parenthood supporters said it made little sense.

“Our state agencies reported to the governor that Planned Parenthood fully complies with federal and state laws” in Georgia, said state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. “In fact, defunding Planned Parenthood would be disastrous. Affordable family planning is what prevents unplanned pregnancies, a basic fact of life that opponents seem to ignore.”

Still, several Southern states have already taken steps to eliminate public funding for the organization’s clinics. Earlier this month, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley issued a notice to terminate his state’s contract with Planned Parenthood Southeast to provide contraception and reproductive health screenings through a Medicaid family planning waiver. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has also moved to terminate Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast clinics’ Medicaid contract.

Cagle’s letter comes a month after Gov. Nathan Deal ordered an investigation into the state’s abortion clinics or agencies that run them.

After reviewing clinics in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Lawrenceville, Marietta and Savannah, the Department of Community Health concluded that all are complying with state law and properly disposing of aborted fetuses and fetal tissues.

The Department of Public Health conducted a separate investigation and found the facilities to be in compliance with state law.

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