Texas Planned Parenthood Loses Court Bid to Restore FundsAndrew Harris and Kelley Shannon
Six Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Inc. affiliates lost a bid for a court order giving them access to funding under the state’s new women’s health program.
The state omitted the affiliates, which provide basic health care, from the Texas Women’s Health Program that took effect Jan. 1, citing their association with legally distinct Planned Parenthood entities that provide abortion services.
State court Judge Stephen Yelenosky in Austin today denied the affiliates’ bid for a temporary order requiring Texas to include them in its new regime after finding they’d likely be harmed by it.
“There must not only be probable injury but also a likelihood that the legal claim will succeed at final trial,” the judge said in a two-page letter decision he read from the bench following a full day of argument and testimony.
The affiliates said in court papers they provided basic health care to almost half of the more than 100,000 women who were enrolled in the state’s federally funded Women’s Health Program that ended on Dec. 31. It was replaced by a wholly state-funded plan the next day.
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.
“We are disappointed in the ruling,” Pete Schenkkan, one of two lawyers who represented Planned Parenthood at today’s hearing, said after the decision was read. “I am confident in the merits of the case.”
President Barack Obama’s administration last year said it was withdrawing federal funding for the old Texas program after state lawmakers created a 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 then.
In court filings, Planned Parenthood called that provision a “poison pill.”
“We are pleased the court has rejected Planned Parenthood’s latest attempt to skirt state law,” a spokeswoman for Abbott, Lauren Bean, said today in an e-mailed statement.
“The Texas Attorney General’s office will continue to defend the Texas Legislature’s decision to prohibit abortion providers and their affiliates from receiving taxpayer dollars through the Women’s Health Program.”
Perry called the court’s ruling “great news for women.” He called the case “a desperate move by an organization more concerned with obtaining taxpayer money than with helping women get care.”
In a separate suit filed last year after the state cut off the affiliates’ access to the prior plan which was predominantly federally funded, Yelenosky had found the plaintiffs would likely suffer harm and that they’d likely win at trial.
The judge said today that the prior case involved money paid out under the joint state-federal Medicaid program.
Texas law prevents the state from doing anything that would lead to the loss of federal funds, Yelenosky said, “and the federal government had notified the state that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood would do just that.”
No federal money was at stake in today’s case, the judge said.
Yelenosky said if he’d agreed with the affiliates that the new program too must be Medicaid funded, then his only available remedy would have been to shut it down, not to order Planned Parenthood’s inclusion.
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 worked 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, though she would now need to be “very selective” in her choices. She told the court today she’s unemployed.
“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.
Yelenosky also heard testimony from two state officials.
One, Michelle Harper, who is director of acute care policy for the state Health and Human Services Commission, testified that she oversaw setting up the new program.
Harper said state officials are trying to help women find new providers under the Texas WHP, telling former Planned Parenthood patients by mail of their new program options and that providers have been found for all women who have called a toll free information line.
Still, she acknowledged there have been some “hiccups” with the online listing that state workers are attempting to remedy.
Under cross-examination by Planned Parenthood lawyer Mike McKetta, Harper said she didn’t know how many women who phoned her agency got a new provider or an appointment with a doctor.
McKetta, in questioning, said it didn’t cause the state any “hardship” to keep Planned Parenthood in the program through the end of 2012. “They did a great job, didn’t they?” he asked.
“I can’t speak to that,” she replied.
The case is Planned Parenthood v. Janek, D-1-GN-12-003887, District Court of Travis County (Austin).