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Pennsylvania Court Again Backs Limits On Abortion Coverage

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center.
Carolyn Kaster
FILE - The exterior of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, home to the Commonwealth and Supreme Courts, Feb. 21, 2023, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Operators of abortion clinics lost in court on Friday in their bid to reverse a decades-old Pennsylvania court decision upholding limits on the use of state Medicaid dollars to cover abortions.

An appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible.

A seven-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court ruled, with one dissent, both that the abortion clinic operators do not have standing to assert the constitutional rights of low-income women seeking an abortion and that it is bound by a 1985 state Supreme Court decision.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, supports abortion rights, but his administration nevertheless fought the case, as did Republican lawmakers who intervened.

The lawsuit, filed in 2019, is asking courts to order the state’s Medicaid program to begin covering abortions, without restriction, and contends that a 1982 Pennsylvania law violates the constitutional equal protection rights of low-income women.

The state Supreme Court in 1985 upheld Pennsylvania’s ban on the use of state dollars for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Pennsylvania’s law is nearly identical to federal limits on the use of federal Medicaid dollars.

Sixteen other states allow public dollars to cover abortions beyond those exceptions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a policy and research organization that supports abortion rights.