2 states sued for not paying for abortions for poor

April 05, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The months-long political fight over the Clinton administration's demand that states pay for more abortions for poor women became a constitutional battle yesterday in two federal courts.

An administration rule that took effect at the end of March says that states that receive Medicaid funds to cover health care for the needy must provide free abortions to poor women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Officials in at least seven states have said that they will not obey that rule, because they believe it makes mandatory what Congress made merely optional in a law passed in December.

Yesterday, Planned Parenthood clinics in Michigan went to federal court in Kalamazoo, and Planned Parenthood clinics in Montana began a lawsuit in Billings, asking that federal judges order those states to use Medicaid funds to pay for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Other such lawsuits are expected to be filed elsewhere in coming days.

Other states that have been resisting the government demand are Arkansas, Kentucky, North and South Dakota, and Utah. Some official talk of resistance also has occurred in Colorado and Oklahoma.

The dispute that now moves to the courts is over the legal meaning of the latest version of the so-called "Hyde amendment."

Since 1977, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican and a strong foe of abortion, has authored annual restrictions on the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. For years, the only abortions that could be paid for under that program were those necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.

In October, however, Congress approved, and President Clinton signed, a law permitting federal Medicaid funds to be used to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest. In December, the administration told the states that the new law required financing in those situations.

Although administration officials have indicated that they would not act strongly against states that resist in the short term, Planned Parenthood Federation of America has indicated that it has no intention of waiting.

Thus, two of its clinics in Michigan and three in Montana leveled the first legal complaints under the new law. The two lawsuits contend that the law means that any state participating in Medicaid "must cover at least those abortions for which federal funds are available."

The clinics contend that the law "establishes a federal floor regarding the provision of legal services," and not a ceiling on what may be covered.

Planned Parenthood officials said yesterday that some of the resistant states have turned down requests for payments to cover abortions in cases of rape or incest, but that clinics were not turning those pregnant women away.

Abortions in cases where states deny the funds will be covered by private money, the clinic leaders have said.

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