Court blocks elimination of funding for Texas Planned Parenthood clinics

A Texas law was set to defund 49 Planned Parenthood clinics, citing the state’s opposition to abortion.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted May 14, 2012

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In a case that has seen near-daily twists and turns, a federal appeals court has reinstated an injunction blocking the defunding of Texas Planned Parenthood clinics.

The decision follows two conflicting court decisions issued within days of each other on the fate of Planned Parenthood’s state funding. Texas in 2011 enacted a law, set to be enforced May 1, barring Planned Parenthood from participating in a state-funded women’s health program because some of the organization’s centers provide abortions, even though none of the centers whose funding would be cut provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood leaders expressed relief at the injunction.

“This case isn’t about Planned Parenthood — it’s about the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, birth control and well-woman exams,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which assists in state legal challenges. “Planned Parenthood’s doors are open today, and they’ll be open tomorrow. We won’t let politics interfere with the health care that nearly 3 million people a year rely on Planned Parenthood for in Texas and around the country.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has appealed the injunction. A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the state was undaunted by the latest court development.

“It doesn’t change our concerted effort in coordination with the attorney general to [defend] the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits abortion providers and their affiliates from receiving tax funding,” Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. “We’re confident in the attorney general’s appeal, and we’re going to continue to pursue all available legal options in this effort.”

Texas Planned Parenthood clinicians who do not perform abortions sued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in April. Planned Parenthood said the rule imposes unconstitutional conditions on its eligibility to participate in the Women’s Health Program. The program provides family planning services and preventive health screenings to more than 100,000 low-income women who do not qualify for Medicaid. Texas Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of care within the health program, operating 49 centers where women can obtain services.

Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Thomas Suehs said states have the right to establish criteria for their health assistance programs. Preventing tax dollars from going to abortion-related clinics is consistent with state law, he said.

On April 30, a federal judge granted an injunction against the Texas law’s enforcement until the case is resolved. The state appealed.

Within 24 hours, a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge blocked the order. The judge directed Planned Parenthood to file a response to the motion by May 1. On May 4, a panel of the same appeals court overturned the stay, saying the order was “no longer appropriate under the current record.” The decision means that for now, the state cannot enforce its defunding law.

Even if the law had gone into effect, women’s health care would not have been compromised, Suehs said in a statement. Without Planned Parenthood, the state still has 2,500 doctors and clinics in the Women’s Health Program who provide care at more than 4,600 sites.

“Access to services in rural and remote areas will be much the same as it is today,” he said. “The vast majority of women won’t have to travel any farther.”

Planned Parenthood, however, argues that thousands of patients would be irreparably harmed if the funding is revoked. According to its lawsuit, at least 49% of women who obtained services through WHP in 2010 received some services at a Planned Parenthood provider. The loss of funding also would severely impact Planned Parenthood’s operating budgets and lead to reduced services and closed clinics.

Federal lawsuit ongoing

Texas stands to lose its federal funding for the WHP by enforcing its defunding law. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said the state’s rule prohibits patients from choosing the health professional of their choice, thus violating federal law. CMS pays 90% of the WHP, and the state pays 10%. In March, CMS said it plans to terminate its funding of the program unless the state revokes its law.

The Texas attorney general sued the Dept. of Health and Human Services in March, arguing that the Obama administration’s decision interferes with Texas’ efforts to promote women’s health.

The government’s decision “has harmed the state of Texas by forcing it to choose between funding the Women’s Health Program entirely with state tax dollars or else shutting down the program,” the lawsuit said. “Each of these options imposes significant financial burdens on the state and its taxpayers.”

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for Suehs’ office, said the federal government has not yet pulled its funding from the program. Texas is working on transitional efforts to support the WHP through state funding only, she said.

At this article’s deadline, HHS had not returned messages seeking comment. No court dates in Abbott’s lawsuit had been scheduled.

The Planned Parenthood suit is scheduled for a hearing in the lower court on May 18. Abbott’s appeal of the injunction is set for oral arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June.

A similar dispute is brewing in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer on May 4 signed a law blocking funding for the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics. The measure prevents the state from contracting with a facility where abortions are performed. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Arizona said the organization is considering its legal options.

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