Planned Parenthood Files New Suit in Fight Over Texas Women’s Health Program

Planned Parenthood has filed a new suit in Texas state court claiming that it cannot, under state law, be excluded from participating in the newly established Texas Women's Health Program.

Protesters outside the Texas State Capitol in April. Photo: Cody Permenter/The Horn.

Planned Parenthood has filed a new suit in Texas state court claiming that it cannot, under state law, be excluded from participating in the newly-established Texas Women’s Health Program (WHP)—a program which the state created with the express purpose of being able to exclude Planned Parenthood, because Texas considers the health care organization an “abortion affiliate.”

A state judge in Austin issued a temporary restraining order Friday preventing the state from banning Planned Parenthood from the state-run women’s health program. The order was issued a day after a federal appellate court refused to reconsider an earlier 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that allowed the state to implement the ban; Planned Parenthood argued the funding ban should be blocked because it was in violation of federal law. 

In the lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court, Planned Parenthood argues that the state’s Affiliate Ban Rule is not authorized by Chapter 32 of the Texas Human Resources Code. That is the state law which establishes the Women’s Health Program. 

According to the statute, the program is subject to approval from the federal government and makes any provision “inoperative” if it causes the state to lose federal matching money for the Women’s Health Program. According to the lawsuit, HHSC was not authorized by the Texas legislature to adopt the Affiliate Ban Rule because it makes the Women’s Health Program ineligible for federal funding. The Affiliate Ban Rule is, therefore, invalid as a matter of state law. 

In Texas, the Planned Parenthood clinics providing preventive health care to about 50,000 WHP clients or nearly half of the total enrollees in the program are kept completely separate—both financially and physically—from clinics that provide safe abortion care. In fact, pregnant women cannot even participate in the WHP, as the program itself is specifically for the prevention of pregnancy in the first place. Abortion has about as much to do with WHP services as heart surgery might; participants in the program are seen for a very limited selection of reproductive health services, including pap smears and contraception. No WHP patient should ever need an abortion because, if the program works properly as it has done for years, no WHP patient should experience an unplanned pregnancy. 

However, Texas Governor Rick Perry released a statement yesterday in response to the new lawsuit vowing to “keep fighting for life.”

“Having lost on its constitutional claims, Planned Parenthood has now turned to Travis County judges in a desperate effort to find some way to keep making money off Texas taxpayers,” said Perry. “In Texas, we’ve chosen to protect innocent life. We will keep fighting for life, and we will ultimately prevail.”

This is despite the fact that university studies predict that the greatly reduced access to care that will result from the Planned Parenthood ban is almost certain to cause more Medicaid-funded births and result in more abortions due to unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Not only will the cost to Texas taxpayers increase if Planned Parenthood is excluded from the program, but other Texas programs and services will suffer as the money-strapped state searches for a way to find an extra $40 million per year to fully fund the Texas WHP, for which the federal government had previously picked up 90 percent of the tab.

Texas Health And Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek said last week that his agency intends to launch the state-funded Texas Women’s Health Program, without the participation of Planned Parenthood, beginning November 1st, though he can’t “guarantee” they’ll start with enough providers to see the tens of thousands of women who typically rely on Planned Parenthood. He can guarantee, however, that the Texas Women’s Health Program will be shut down entirely if any court compels them to include Planned Parenthood in the program. A “poison pill” clause in the new Texas WHP’s rules will immediately eliminate the WHP if that happens.

If the courts say you have to include Planned Parenthood, then yes, it goes away,” Janek told reporters last week.

A hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary injunction is currently set for November 8th at 9:00 a.m. in Austin.