651 S.E.2d 36 (Ga. 2007), S07A1039, Feminist Women's Health Center v. Burgess

Docket Nº:S07A1039.
Citation:651 S.E.2d 36, 282 Ga. 433
Party Name:FEMINIST WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTER et al. v. BURGESS et al.
Case Date:September 24, 2007
Court:Supreme Court of Georgia
 
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651 S.E.2d 36 (Ga. 2007)

282 Ga. 433

FEMINIST WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTER et al.

v.

BURGESS et al.

No. S07A1039.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

September 24, 2007

Page 37

Gerald Richard Weber, Jr. , Margaret Fletcher Garrett , Atlanta, Louise Melling , Jennifer Dalven , New York City, for Appellants.

Thurbert E. Baker , Atty. Gen., Michelle Townes, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, for Appellees.

THOMPSON , Justice.

Appellants appeal from the trial court's order dismissing their complaint challenging the constitutionality of that portion of Georgia's Medicaid program which denies Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions. For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

The challenged regulations are part of Georgia's Medicaid program under which the State provides medical services to persons who meet certain financial eligibility requirements. See 42 USCA § 1396 et seq. ; OCGA § 49-4-140 et seq. The program, set out in the Department of Community Health's Policies and Procedures, provides payment for covered services when such services are medically necessary. See, e.g., Div. of Med. Assistance, Ga. Dept. of Community Health, Policies and Procedures for Medicaid/Peachcare for Kids, Definition 15 and § 105(k) (July 1, 2004). With respect to abortion services in particular, the program provides that the State will reimburse for abortions performed on Medicaid-eligible patients only “if the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or if the mother was a victim of rape or incest." Div. of Med. Assistance, Ga. Dept. of Community Health, Policies and Procedures for Physician Services, § 904.2 (July 1, 2004); Div. of Med. Assistance, Ga. Dept. of Community Health, Policies and Procedures for Hospital Services, § 911.1 (July 1, 2004); Div. of Med. Assistance, Ga. Dept. of Community Health, Policies and Procedures for Family Planning Clinic Services, § 903 (July 1, 2004). In contrast, Medicaid-eligible women who carry their pregnancies to term are provided coverage for all medically necessary services.

Appellants are a physician and several health care facilities who have performed medically necessary abortions on low-income women in the past and have been refused payment under Georgia's Medicaid plan and Leslie Roe, a Medicaid-eligible woman suffering from spina bifida and paralysis who lacked the funds for a medically necessary abortion. Appellees are the Commissioner of the Department of Community Health, members of the board of the department, and the director of the Department's Division of Medical Assistance. In their complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, appellants alleged that the program's exclusion of medically necessary abortions violated the Georgia Constitution on privacy and equal protection grounds. The trial court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, holding that the medical provider appellants lacked third-party [282 Ga. 434] standing to assert a claim on behalf of their Medicaid-eligible patients and that Roe's individually asserted claim was barred because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. This appeal followed.

1. As a general rule, a litigant has standing to challenge the constitutionality of a law only if the law has an adverse impact on that litigant's own rights. Ambles v. State, 259 Ga. 406, 383 S.E.2d 555 (1989) ; Lambeth v. State, 257 Ga. 15, 354 S.E.2d 144 (1987) . Recognizing limited exceptions to the general rule, this Court has acknowledged the right of an association to bring suit

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on behalf of its members, Aldridge v. Georgia Hospitality, etc., Assn., 251 Ga. 234, 304 S.E.2d 708 (1983) , the right of the State to challenge the constitutionality of a statute which...

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