Federal Appeals Court Rules Texas Can Cut Off Planned Parenthood Funding

On Tuesday a federal appeals court lifted an injunction and ruled that Texas can end all funding for Planned Parenthood clinics providing health services to low-income women while a challenge to the law goes to trial.

The Texas Women's Health Care Program (WHP) was designed to provide health care services to women who might otherwise not qualify for Medicaid unless pregnant. Of the approximately $40 million dollars used to fund the program, the federal government provides approximately $35 million. Since its inception, the Texas Legislature has prohibited the state agency that administers WHP from contracting with "entities that perform election abortions or are affiliates of entities that perform or promote abortions."

Until very recently, Planned Parenthood and its affiliate clinics understood that restriction to mean that if they do not recommend abortion as a health procedure, and if they maintain a separate legal entity from abortion-providing clinics they could receive WHP funds. So did the state of Texas which had continuously funded Planned Parenthood clinics despite this restriction.

This year, as part of their ongoing effort to drive Planned Parenthood out of the state, Texas Republicans drafted a new rule governing the receipt of funding in the WHP that re-defined the word "affiliate" so broadly enough that Planned Parenthood clinics that do not perform abortions are considered affiliates of the clinics that do, even if that affiliation is nothing more than a shared name. They then used that new rule to cut off funding for the those entities, effectively killing off the WHP program all-together.

Planned Parenthood challenged the new rule arguing it was an impermissible restriction on their First Amendment rights. Typically the government cannot condition the participation in health services on giving up free speech rights, and, according to Planned Parenthood, the ban on "affiliates" receiving funding violates their freedom of association rights.

Federal district court judge Lee Yeakel agreed and blocked the rule from going into effect. But the Fifth Circuit did not and in lifting the injunction blocking the rule, held that Texas has broad authority to regulate its state health program and as part of that regulation can include discriminate against entities the court said promoted a "pro-abortion point of view."

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund issued the following statement in response to the ruling:

“We are evaluating every possible option to protect women’s health in Texas.  This case has never been about Planned Parenthood — it's about the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.

“It is shocking that politics would get in the way of women receiving access to basic health care.  Governor Perry has already thrown 160,000 women off of health care for partisan political reasons — now there will be more to come.  Today’s ruling puts the health of an additional 52,000 women in jeopardy.

The Fifth Circuit sent the matter back to the trial court where a trial on the merits is schedule to start in October.

This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice


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