Planned Parenthood won an extension of an order blocking Texas from making cuts in funding to its clinics because the organization provides abortion services.
Texas officials were stopped by an Oct. 26 temporary restraining order issued by Judge Amy Clark Meachum in Austin from eliminating public funds for the 49 Planned Parenthood clinics in the state that don’t provide abortions.
After a hearing today in Austin, U.S. District Judge Stephen Yelenosky said he is extending Meachum’s order.
Yelenosky said that by labeling all Planned Parenthood clinics as being affiliated with abortion providers, state officials are using a definition of “affiliate” that goes against the law on funding for the Women’s Health Program written by the Legislature.
“The plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their claim that the rule is inconsistent with the instructions of the Texas Legislature,” Yelenosky wrote in a letter to attorneys.
Texas “will immediately appeal today’s decision, which incorrectly halts implementation of state law,” Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Greg Abbott, said in an e-mail.
“This is another victory for the women of Texas that Planned Parenthood is proud to serve,” Pete Schenkkan, a lawyer for the organization, said outside the courtroom.
Lawyers for the state and Planned Parenthood said they want to schedule a December trial before Yelenosky.
A state ban will cost Planned Parenthood about $13 million a year in government reimbursements, force it to close some health centers, and interfere with health care for low-income women, the group said in court filings.
University of Texas sociology professor Joseph Potter, a reproductive health expert, testified today that cutting funding for Planned Parenthood would hurt clinics and patients.
“You can’t put it back together again. It would take a long time,” Potter said, testifying for Planned Parenthood.
When past public funding was reduced, clinics have closed and remaining clinics have cut back on services such as long- term birth control methods, he said.
The Obama administration said it would withdraw U.S. funding for the Women’s Health Program in Texas after state lawmakers last year passed a regulation blocking participation by groups affiliated with elective-abortion providers. The program is funded mostly by the federal government, but also by the state. Planned Parenthood is one of the organizations to receive reimbursements through this program.
Attorneys for the state have said in their court filings that the court lacks jurisdiction over Kyle Janek, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which runs the Women’s Health Program. Ninety percent of the Medicaid program’s funding comes from the federal government.
Planned Parenthood sued the commission and Janek last month after the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans refused to hear a dispute in a related lawsuit.
If the federal funding is pulled, Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, and Janek have said they are prepared to pay for the program with state money, with other clinics replacing Planned Parenthood.
Patricio Gonzales, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County, testified today that his clinics serve predominantly Hispanic women, 90 percent of whom are below the poverty level.
“Our patients are some of the poorest in the state and the country,” he said.
Gonzales said the Women’s Health Program accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the four clinics’ budgets in the county, which is in south Texas. If Planned Parenthood couldn’t participate in the program, he said it would likely close two or three of the clinics and cut staffing by about half.
“It would have a devastating impact,” Gonzales said, adding that patients “would not have providers.”
Planned Parenthood asked Nov. 6 that its federal lawsuit against the state be dismissed. If the state court rules in its favor, there would be no need for the federal court in Austin to decide claims based on the U.S. Constitution, Planned Parenthood said in a court filing.
The state’s ban on funding is invalid because it violates a state law that prevents the Women’s Health Program from being changed to lose federal funding, Mike McKetta, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, told the judge.
“Planned Parenthood has finally acknowledged what we have known from the very beginning -- their constitutional challenge is flawed on its face,” Perry said in a statement. “Venue shopping and courtroom sleight-of-hand in no way helps the women of Texas.”
Schenkkan, the Planned Parenthood attorney, said outside the hearing that the governor misconstrued the organization’s motion. The federal case was “dismissed without prejudice,” and Planned Parenthood can return later to federal court, he said.
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