Federal Judge Blocks Texas Effort to De-Fund Planned Parenthood

A federal judge today blocked the state of Texas from de-funding Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state, and excluding them from participating in Texas' Women's Health Program (WHP).  

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A federal judge today blocked the state of Texas from de-funding Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state, and excluding them from participating in Texas’s Women’s Health Program (WHP). Last year, the legislature passed and Governor Perry later signed a bill that included provisions excluding Planned Parenthood affiliates from the program, for the stated reason that while Texas PP affiliates participating in the Women’s Health Program do not provide safe, legal abortions, they are related to an organization that does. 

Currently more than one-quarter of Texan women are uninsured. Forty percent of those who receive care through WHP chose to rely on a Planned Parenthood health center for their basic primary and preventive reproductive health care, including access to breast and cervical cancer exams, birth control, testing and treatment for STDs, breast health services, Pap tests, and sexual health education and information. 

On April 11, Texas Planned Parenthood family planning providers filed suit against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in federal court, contesting the exclusion from WHP. In his ruling today, according to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “Judge Lee Yeakel agreed… that the new rule is likely unconstitutional because it bars them from participating in the Women’s Health Program based on their affiliation with legally and financially separate entities that engage in constitutionally protected conduct related to abortion.”

The exclusion of Planned Parenthood clinics from WHP, part of a broader assault on funding for women’s health in the state, was already affecting individual Texas women. Last year, Governor Perry eliminated two-thirds of the budget for women’s preventive health care from the state budget. As a result, more than 160,000 low-income women were left without services. The exclusion of PP affiliates would have affected at least another 130,000 women.

While the Perry Administration claimed that such services would be “made up” by funding by the state to other clinics, the source of the funding amidst so many other cuts was never made clear and has not materialized.

Moreover, the capacity, location, and ability of other clinics throughout the state to absorb hundreds of thousands of new clients has been questionable at best. Last year, Rewire reporter Andrea Grimes personally surveyed clinics throughout the state attempting to find those that could provide easy access to services such as pap smears and found that most such potential “replacement” clinics were not as accessible on any number of levels as Planned Parenthood clinics, and often were not equipped to provide the same services. Earlier this month, Grimes profiled Cristina LuQuis, a low-income woman in Texas who was trying without success to navigate — or, perhaps, more accurately even find —  the “new system” that was supposed to replace the services she had received from Planned Parenthood.

Extrapolate from one individual to millions of women in Texas and the implications of such cuts are dire. Women in Texas, for example, already face the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the United States. 

Still, Texas officials suggested that they would rather end the entire Women’s Health Program, eliminating basic, preventive health care for more than 100,000 low-income women, than have Planned Parenthood continue to participate in the program. 

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Texas affiliates celebrated the decision.

“Tens of thousands of Texan women enrolled in the Women’s Health Program rely on Planned Parenthood for lifesaving cancer screenings, annual exams, and access to birth control. For many women, we are the only doctor’s visit they will have this year,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This ruling affirms what women have known all along: politics simply doesn’t have a place in women’s health.”

Texas advocates issued a challenge to Perry:

“We call on Governor Perry and the state to put Texan women first and set aside any vendetta they may have against Planned Parenthood,” said Patricio Gonzales, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County.  “No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor’s care because of shortsighted political games.”

“Legal action is always a last resort, but the state and Governor Perry’s actions gave us no other option,” said Gonzales. “The health and well-being of our patients is our number-one priority. We hope that this decision will allow us to continue our lifesaving work of providing high-quality health care and cancer screenings to some of Texas’ most vulnerable women.”