Planned Parenthood Texas Funding Ban Set Aside Again

A federal appeals court reinstated an order blocking Texas from enforcing a rule that would keep Planned Parenthood-affiliated groups from taking part in a state-funded women’s health program.

The organizations sued Texas April 11 to block the regulation, which bars the state from contracting with entities affiliated with abortion providers. It was designed to exclude the operators of 49 health centers from the program after April 30. Planned Parenthood argued the rule is unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Austin blocked the rule in part due to the “potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women.” The state appealed, claiming “irreparable harm” if the stay remained in force. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, after acceding to the request, yesterday reinstated the injunction, saying in a filing that Texas omitted facts that call “into question” its claim of emergency.

The case pits Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, against President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Perry pledged earlier this year to replace almost $30 million in federal funds for the women’s health program that the Obama administration cut off because of the state ban. Obama has said Texas can’t block federally approved organizations such as Planned Parenthood from participating in programs underwritten by Medicaid, which pays for health services for the poor.

The appeals court, which didn’t rule on the merits of the case, ordered oral arguments on the injunction for early June.

Half of Program

The nonprofit Planned Parenthood organizations care for almost half of the state program’s 130,000 participants. A call to Perry’s office after regular business hours seeking comment on the ruling wasn’t immediately returned.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Perry, said last month that the appeal by state Attorney General Greg Abbott will “defend the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the Women’s Health Program.”

In their complaint, Planned Parenthood argued that women in Texas are finding it difficult to get care at its health centers and alternative providers, and that without the injunction, patients would be forced to go without preventative care, resulting in increased risks of undiagnosed cancer, sexually transmitted illnesses and unplanned pregnancies.

Tens of Thousands

“The only irreparable harm in this entire situation would be inflicted on the low-income Texas women who rely in the Women’s Health Program for their basic, preventive health care,” said Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in an e-mailed statement.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said when the injunction was handed down by the Austin court that tens of thousands of Texas women enrolled in the state’s Women’s Health Program rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, annual exams, and access to birth control.

“For many women, we are the only doctor’s visit they will have this year,” Richards said. “This ruling affirms what women have known all along: Politics simply doesn’t have a place in women’s health.”

The district court case is Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County Texas v. Suehs, 12-00322, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin). The appeals court case is Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County Texas v. Suehs, 12-50377, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).

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