HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court said Monday that a lower court must hear a challenge to the constitutionality of a decades-old state law that limits the use of Medicaid dollars to cover the cost of abortions.
The 3-2 decision both overturns a lower court decision to dismiss the case and puts aside a 1985 state Supreme Court court decision that upheld a law banning the use of state Medicaid dollars for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
The high court’s majority said Monday that prior court decisions did not fully consider the breadth of state constitutional protections against discrimination.
The lawsuit, brought by Planned Parenthood and other operators of abortion clinics, said the 1982 law unconstitutionally discriminates against poor women.
The new ruling does not necessarily find a constitutional right to an abortion in Pennsylvania, where abortion is legal under state law through 23 weeks of pregnancy.
Rather, it turns on the question of whether the state Medicaid law unconstitutionally differentiated between women who want to carry to term and women who want to get an abortion.
The lower-court decision had cited the prior state Supreme Court decision in dismissing the lawsuit.
The majority said the lower court must reconsider whether Medicaid, called Medical Assistance, can legally draw a distinction “between pregnant women on Medical Assistance who would seek to obtain abortions and pregnant women on Medical Assistance who would seek to carry their pregnancies to term.”
Women who get an abortion receive no government funding for the reproductive care they seek, while women who carry to term receive full coverage, the majority opinion said.
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