By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday reversed a ruling that prevented Arkansas from cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood following the release of controversial videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reversed a ruling forbidding Arkansas from carrying through with Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson's directive to suspend Medicaid reimbursements to a Planned Parenthood affiliate.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock had ruled in favor of three women who claimed Arkansas violated their rights under the federal Medicaid law to choose any qualified provider offering services they were seeking.
But by a 2-1 vote, a 8th Circuit said the provision of the Medicaid law the women relied on does not unambiguously create a federal right for individual patients that they could enforce in court.
U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton wrote that the lack of such a right does not mean state officials have unlimited authority to terminate Medicaid providers.
"We conclude only that Congress did not unambiguously confer the particular right asserted by the patients in this case," he wrote.
U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Melloy dissented, saying four other appeals courts have reached the opposite conclusion and found a private right of enforcement existed.
Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement said the fight "is not over."
"We will do everything in our power to protect our patients' access to birth control cancer screenings, and other lifesaving care," McDonald-Mosley said.
Arkansas cut off funds for Planned Parenthood after the anti-abortion activist group Center for Medical Progress released videos in 2015 it claimed showed the group's officials negotiating the sale of fetal body parts for profit.
Planned Parenthood has denied the allegation and says 13 states that investigated those claims have cleared it of wrongdoing.
Hutchinson, who was among Republican governors nationally who targeted the organization following those videos, welcomed Wednesday's ruling.
"This is a substantial legal victory for the right of the state to determine whether Medicaid providers are acting in accordance with best practices and affirms the prerogative of the state to make reasoned judgments on the Medicaid program," he said in a statement.
Planned Parenthood does not perform surgical abortions in Arkansas, which forbids public funding of abortions except in cases of rape or incest. But it provides other gynecological services as well as birth control and breast examinations.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio)