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Nevada Medicaid must cover abortion services, judge rules

Updated March 19, 2024 - 5:45 pm

A Las Vegas judge granted a petition Tuesday to compel Nevada Medicaid to provide coverage for abortion services.

The Silver State Hope Fund, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Nevada, filed a petition in August against the Department of Health and Human Services, challenging Nevada Medicaid’s coverage ban and arguing that by not providing abortion services, the state program was violating the Nevada Equal Rights Amendment.

District Judge Erika Ballou granted the petition during a court hearing Tuesday, after stating she had read the briefings and did not need to hear further arguments on what was written in court documents, said Christopher Peterson, the legal director of the ACLU of Nevada.

“From our vantage point, it is the most significant ruling, maybe nationally, with respect to Medicaid coverage for women who are coming to Nevada, or who are in Nevada, who need help the most,” said Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada.

The attorney general’s office, which represented the Department of Health and Human Services, declined to comment Tuesday.

“We’re prepared for an appeal” from the state, Peterson said following Tuesday’s hearing, adding that Ballou is also expected to issue a written order.

Haseebullah said that the state’s Equal Rights Amendment, approved by voters in November 2022 via a ballot question, precludes sex-based discrimination in medical services. He pointed out that while Nevada Medicaid did not cover abortion services, it continued to cover services such as vasectomies.

Abortions have not been covered under Nevada’s Medicaid program unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. According to the petition, 17 states, including California and Oregon, cover abortion under state Medicaid programs.

Attorneys representing Nevada Medicaid wrote in court documents that the exclusion of coverage for elective reproductive procedures is “more even-handed” than the ACLU argued, and that Nevada Medicaid does not cover vasectomy reversals or fertility treatments for anyone.

The attorneys argued that the Equal Rights Amendment does not guarantee state funding for abortion services and that there is a governmental interest in denying abortion access.

“Here, Nevada has a legitimate interest in efficiently utilizing Medicaid funds — both federal and state — to maximize the services provided to Medicaid recipients,” attorneys wrote in court documents. “If Medicaid were to cover elective abortions, it would have to divert state money from covering other services because it cannot use federal matching dollars to pay for elective abortions.”

The Silver State Hope Fund, which was formed in 2013, helps pay for travel, lodging and child care for people in Nevada and other states who are seeking abortions in Nevada. The majority of their clients have incomes that qualify them for Medicaid, according to a statement released Tuesday by the ACLU of Nevada.

Haseebullah said that since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, the Silver State Hope Fund has seen an increase in abortion-seekers attempting to travel to Nevada.

“When the United States Supreme Court decided to discard the long-running precedent in Roe v. Wade, we stepped up, devoting our time, energy, and limited resources to ensuring those who face financial challenges aren’t limited in their healthcare options,” Erin Bilbray-Kohn, the executive director for the Silver State Hope Fund, said in Tuesday’s statement.

In the first year after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Nevada saw a 37 percent increase in out-of-state patients at Planned Parenthood health centers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has previously reported.

If the case is upheld on appeal, Haseebullah said he hopes that Tuesday’s ruling “lights a pathway forward for other states that are looking to have an inclusive Equal Rights Amendment that protects all people, regardless of sex and gender.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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