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Defunding Planned Parenthood: new frontline in states' rights battle?

Officials say attempts to end Medicaid agreements with Planned Parenthood in Louisiana and Alabama would illegally limit beneficiaries' access to care and services from qualified providers.

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Republican presidential candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at the RedState Gathering, Aug. 7, in Atlanta. Governor Jindal has moved to terminate Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood in Louisiana, a move the Department of Health and Human Services says could potentially violate federal law.

David Goldman/AP/File

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The US government has warned Louisiana and Alabama that their move to defund Planned Parenthood might be in conflict with federal law, officials said Wednesday.

Attempts to terminate Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood could be construed as illegal restriction of beneficiary access to services, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told the Associated Press.

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According to federal law, state Medicaid programs are required to cover family-planning services and supplies for anyone of child-bearing age. HHS says ending the agreements with Planned Parenthood in Louisiana and Alabama would limit beneficiaries' access to care and services from qualified providers.

The recent push to defund planned Planned Parenthood follows the release of several videos of interviews with organization employees about use of fetal tissue obtained during termination procedures in medical research. The interviews were conducted and released by anti-abortion activists at the Center for Medical Progress posing as researchers. The videos' release has raised questions about whether Planned Parenthood and its affiliates have been profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, which is illegal under federal law.

On August 3 Democrats blocked a federal bill that would have stripped Planned Parenthood of its $500 million in annual federal funding.

Soon after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of 17 contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, initiated his state's push to cut funding of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood executive vice president, called moves to eliminate the organization’s funding were "political grandstanding," in a statement issued Wednesday.

"It's good to hear that HHS has clarified what we already know: blocking women's access to care at Planned Parenthood is against the law," she added.

Several states have launched investigations into whether Planned Parenthood has violated any laws regarding the sale of fetal tissue. The organization has maintained that it only collects small reimbursements to offset the costs of processing and transportation. As The Christian Science Monitor previously reported:

Donation of fetal tissue for medical research purchases is legal. However, purchase of tissue, solicitation or acceptance of tissue as directed donation for use in transplantation, and solicitation or acceptance of tissue from fetuses gestated for research purposes is unlawful if the transfer affects interstate commerce, according to federal law.