By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Oct 6 (Reuters) - Planned Parenthood has sought class action status for its Medicaid patients in Arkansas after a U.S. judge ordered the state to continue payments to three women who challenged Arkansas' move to halt payments to the organization.
The filing in federal court in Arkansas on Monday could reverse the state's decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood programs in the state, lawyers for the group said on Tuesday.
Governor Asa Hutchinson had ordered Planned Parenthood removed from the list of Medicaid providers after videos surfaced in July that purported to show its personnel negotiating the sale of fetal body parts for profit.
The state has appealed the federal court judge's injunction involving the three women and said it acted legally in cutting off funds.
Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing and said its Arkansas clinics do not perform surgical abortions.
"The core case remains the same, that the state improperly excluded Planned Parenthood from its list of eligible providers," Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Tuesday.
It is unclear how many potential plaintiffs would be covered should class action status be granted, but in its petition Planned Parenthood said it had provided reproductive services to more than 1,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in fiscal 2014 and more than 500 in its current fiscal year.
U.S. Judge Kristine Baker on Friday directed the Arkansas Medicaid program to continue compensating Planned Parenthood's local affiliates for three women, identified in court papers as Jane Does, citing probable "irreparable harm" to their reproductive health.
She also said the state had provided no evidence that the Arkansas clinics had engaged in improper or illegal activity.
Arkansas is one of several Republican-controlled states that have cut funds for the organization after the release of videos by an anti-abortion activist group, the Center for Medical Progress, in which Planned Parenthood officials are seen discussing transactions involving fetal tissue.
The Arkansas contracts with Planned Parenthood involved services including nurse practitioners, pharmacy and family planning and were delivered through the Arkansas Medicaid program. No state funds were used for abortions, except in the case of incest, rape or when the life of the mother was at stake, state health officials said. (Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Doina Chiacu)
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