Oct 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away South Carolina's bid to cut off public funding to Planned Parenthood, the latest case involving a conservative state seeking to deprive the women's healthcare and abortion provider of government money.
The justices declined to hear South Carolina's appeal of a lower court ruling that prevented the state from blocking funding under the Medicaid program to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the organization's regional affiliate.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic operates clinics in Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, where it provides physical exams, cancer and other health screenings, as well as abortions. Each year the clinics serve hundreds of patients who receive Medicaid, a government health insurance program for low-income Americans.
Numerous Republican-governed states have pursued direct and indirect restrictions involving abortion. Planned Parenthood often is targeted by anti-abortion activists. Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the United States and also receives millions of dollars in public funding for other healthcare services.
Planned Parenthood and Medicaid patient Julie Edwards sued the state's Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 after officials ended the organization's participation in the state Medicaid program.
The state took the action after Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, issued executive orders declaring that any abortion provider would be unqualified to provide family planning services and cutting off state funding to them. The state's action forced Planned Parenthood to turn away Medicaid patients seeking healthcare services, according to a court filing.
South Carolina already did not provide Medicaid reimbursements for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother's life was in danger, as required by federal law.
The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the state's decision in 2019, saying that by ending Planned Parenthood's Medicaid agreement for reasons unrelated to professional competency, the state violated Edwards' right under the federal Medicaid Act to receive medical assistance from any institution that is "qualified to perform the service."
In appealing to the Supreme Court, the state's health department said Medicaid recipients do not have a right to challenge a state's determination that a specific provider is not qualified to provide certain medical services.
The Supreme Court in 2018 rejected similar appeals by Louisiana and Kansas seeking to terminate Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding. At that time, three conservative justices - Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch - said the court should have heard the states' appeals.
President Donald Trump has asked the Senate to confirm his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite among religious conservatives, before the Nov. 3 election. Barrett was picked to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supporter of abortion rights who died on Sept. 18.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Jan Wolfe; editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)