Six Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Inc. affiliates asked a state court judge to clear the way for them to receive government money to provide health care to low-income women.
Judge Stephen Yelenosky in Austin is hearing arguments today from Planned Parenthood’s lawyers and from the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The state opposes the request to restore funding cut last year because of the group’s association with legally separate Planned Parenthood entities that provide abortion services.
The affiliates said in court papers they provided basic health services other than abortion to almost half of the more than 100,000 women who were enrolled in the state’s federally funded Women’s Health Program, which ended on Dec. 31 and was replaced by a wholly state-funded plan the next day.
“Whichever way you go on this, they have a big statutory problem,” Planned Parenthood lawyer Pete Schenkkan said of the shift to the new Texas Women’s Health Program today in court. “You can’t exclude licensed providers.”
The affiliates and the women they serve will be irreparably harmed if access to the money isn’t restored, they said in court filings.
President Barack Obama’s administration last year said it was withdrawing federal funding for the Texas program after state lawmakers created the regulation blocking participation by organizations associated with providers of elective abortions.
Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, together with Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek, in October announced the creation of the state-funded Women’s Health Program, or Texas WHP.
“Governor Perry made clear Texas law will not allow a program that includes abortion providers or their affiliates like Planned Parenthood to be providers in the program,” his administration said in a statement at the time.
“Any lawsuit filed to challenge the Texas WHP will kill the program, and would be responsible for denying these important health services to the low-income women of Texas,” the Perry administration said.
In court filings, Planned Parenthood has called that provision a “poison pill.”
The legislative intent was to exclude an abortion message from women’s health programs, state attorney Kristofer Monson told Yelenosky today. Witnesses who’ll testify at the hearing will give a “real world picture” of the service providers now available to low-income women, Monson said.
The new women’s health program provides yearly exams, family planning and birth-control options for low-income women, according to the state’s Health and Human Services Commission.
The Planned Parenthood groups’ combined annual WHP reimbursement had been about $13 million, they said in a filing last month. Loss of that money will be “devastating” and would force facilities to close, they said.
“There is no Texas statute that requires a primary-care program run by the Department of State Health Services using Texas money to accept the entity plaintiffs as service providers,” the state said in a Jan. 7 court filing.
Planned Parenthood called three witnesses today, including the lead individual plaintiff, Marcela Balquinta, 26, of McAllen, described in court papers as a University of Texas, Pan American, graduate who works part-time teaching students about sexual-violence prevention.
Balquinta told the court she had been getting her health care at Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County, but now can’t because of the new rules. She said she would try to pay for some herself through Planned Parenthood, but would now need to be “very selective” in her choices.
“I believe that the health care and information that Planned Parenthood gives to the people in my community is not something that everybody could afford,” she said.
Under cross-examination, state’s attorney Patrick Sweeten cited Balquinta’s Planned Parenthood advocacy since she was in college and told her there are other providers in her area that contract with the state to provide women’s health care.
“Have you sought out, have you looked for other providers?” Sweeten asked.
Balquinta said she hadn’t.
Patricio Gonzalez, chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood in Hidalgo County said almost 50 percent of its clinics’ budget came through the WHP and that most of his clients are poor and uninsured people seeking cancer screenings, annual exams and other care.
His clinics are now asking patients for additional payments.
“Many of the women can’t afford the $20 for that office visit,” Gonzalez said.
Two state witnesses will testify later today, Monson said.
The court denied the affiliates’ request for a temporary restraining order on Dec. 31, the day before the new statutory regulation took effect.
The case is Planned Parenthood v. Janek, D-1-GN-12-003887, District Court of Travis County (Austin).