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Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks State Law Halting Funds to Planned Parenthood

Texas Judge Temporarily Blocks State Law Halting Funds to Planned Parenthood

May 1, 2012 — A federal judge on Monday issued a temporary injunction against a Texas law that prohibits organizations affiliated with abortion providers from receiving state funds through the Medicaid Women's Health Program, the New York Times reports. The law would have removed 49 Planned Parenthood clinics from the Texas program beginning on Tuesday, according to the Times (Fernandez, New York Times, 5/1).

The case was filed by several Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state, who argued in a hearing last week that the health care of 40,000 women would be disrupted if the judge did not stop the law from taking effect (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/23). They said the law violates their freedom of speech and association (AP/CBS News, 5/1).

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said there is sufficient evidence that the law might be unconstitutional, noting, "The government may not condition participation in a government program or receipt of a government benefit upon an applicant's exercise of protected rights" (McCarthy, National Journal, 4/30).

Yeakel wrote, "The court is particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women," adding, "The record before the court at this juncture reflects uncertainty as to the continued viability of the Texas Women's Health Program" (Bassett, Huffington Post, 4/30).

State Appeals

On Monday, state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) appealed the injunction, although a spokesperson for Texas Health and Human Services said the state would comply in the interim (New York Times, 5/1). Yeakel will make a final decision after the full trial, although that ruling also could be appealed.

Texas officials have threatened to shut down the program if they are forced to include Planned Parenthood, which would disrupt contraceptive and other health care services for 130,000 women (AP/CBS News, 5/1). The federal government -- which covers 90% of the program's cost -- has said it will end contributions to the program this fall because the state is violating a federal law guaranteeing program participants the right to choose their own health care providers. Texas officials have said they will launch a state-funded program to continue the services once the federal funding ends (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/19).

Planned Parenthood said the temporary ruling will ensure that low-income women in Texas can continue to receive services such as cancer screenings, annual exams and birth control. "For many women, we are the only doctor's visit they will have this year," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said, adding, "This ruling affirms what women have known all along: politics simply doesn't have a place in women's health" (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 4/30).

Texas Among Several States Cutting Funding for Family Planning

The Medicaid Women's Health Program law comes on top of a $74 million cut in funding to the state's Family Planning Program, which contributed to the closure of 155 clinics across the state. Combined, the two provisions could end services for more than 300,000 low-income women annually, according to the Texas Legislative Budget Board.

Similar efforts to reduce funding for family planning services are underway in other states, according to Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. She said that last year, lawmakers introduced more than 1,100 bills aimed at restricting reproductive health services, compared with 950 the year prior. "We have never seen so many attacks on family planning as we did last year," Nash said.

New Hampshire lawmakers last year approved a $1 million cut to the state's family planning budget, according to Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. In Tennessee, two Planned Parenthood affiliates sued the state for denying the clinics $150,000 in federal grants. In addition, Arizona lawmakers are considering a measure that would bar the state from contracting with any organization that offers abortion care or is affiliated with abortion providers, according to the Center for Arizona Policy (Jervis, USA Today, 5/1).