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Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Law Barring Organization From Women's Health Program

Planned Parenthood Sues Texas Over Law Barring Organization From Women's Health Program

April 12, 2012 — Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block a state law that bars the organization and other "affiliates of abortion providers" from participating in its Medicaid Women's Health Program, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 4/11).

The lawsuit involves eight Planned Parenthood groups, none of which provides abortion care. The groups argue that the law infringes on their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association and has nothing to do with providing women's health care. Instead, the law is intended to silence groups that support abortion rights, they argued (Tomlinson, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/11). The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the law from taking effect on May 1.

"The government cannot condition your participation in the health services on giving up your free speech," Pete Shenkken, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, argued. "The First and 14th Amendment[s] are clear that the government cannot deny public funding of non-abortion health services simply because a business is affiliated with legally and financially separate entities that provide abortions with private funding," he said, adding that the law "defeats the purpose" of the state's efforts to expand health care for women.

The suit marks the latest turn in the fight over Texas' recent decision to begin enforcing the law, which was initially approved in 2005 (Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 4/11). Last month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) filed a lawsuit against HHS over the agency's decision to stop funding for the state's Women's Health Program. The federal government, which covers 90% of the program's cost, previously told Texas officials that the law violates federal rules prohibiting states from excluding qualified providers from Medicaid (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/19).

On Wednesday, Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Stephanie Goodman expressed confidence that the state would prevail in the cases because "federal law gives states the right and responsibility to establish criteria for Medicaid providers." Gov. Rick Perry's (R) press secretary, Catherine Frazier, said Texas has "no obligation to provide taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood."

Shenkken noted that courts have blocked similar laws in four other states that would deny funding for Planned Parenthood. Two of the states have filed appeals.

Implications

According to the Houston Chronicle, all the of the state's Planned Parenthood affiliates plan to end services through the Women's Health Program by April 30, when they will lose funding. Planned Parenthood serves about 40% of the 130,000 low-income women who receive care through the program, which provides contraceptive services and health screenings (Houston Chronicle, 4/11).

Patricio Gonzalez -- CEO of Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County, which provides health care services to 6,500 women -- said the affiliate would be forced to close two or three of its four clinics if the law takes effect (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/11).