Texas to withhold Medicaid money from Planned Parenthood, as opponents look to Trump

Federal judges have blocked similar efforts in other states, but this move comes as Americans wait to see if US President-elect Donald Trump will strip federal funding from the controversial health-care provider.

Eric Gay/AP/File
Erica Canaut (center) cheers as she and other anti-abortion activists rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, July 28, 2015.

Citing a series of videos released by an anti-abortion group, Texas moved this week to block Planned Parenthood from receiving about $3 million in Medicaid funding for its operations in the state – a move that could affect 11,000 low-income patients.

Federal judges have blocked similar efforts in several other Republican-controlled states, but the move by Texas comes as Americans wait to see if US President-elect Donald Trump will strip federal funding from the controversial health-care organization, as he has proposed. Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than any other single organization, though those make up only about 3 percent of the health services provided by Planned Parenthood clinics.

"With this action, the state is doubling down on reckless policies that have been absolutely devastating for women," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood's Action Fund, in a statement. She called Texas "a cautionary tale for the rest of the nation."

Texas was among 13 states to investigate Planned Parenthood after videos were released last year purportedly showing clinic officials negotiating prices for aborted fetal tissues. A congressional panel is still investigating, though none of the state investigations resulted in any criminal charges.

Although a grand jury in Texas cleared the organization in January of any wrongdoing, and instead indicted the creators of the videos, state officials have continued to suggest that the organization might have violated state law. In a letter to Planned Parenthood, Texas Health and Human Services Inspector General Stuart Bowen referred to the videos as "the basis for your termination," accusing the organization of making "misrepresentations."

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement Wednesday saying he "has made clear that Texas will not subsidize an organization that admits a willingness to alter an abortion procedure in order to profit off the harvesting of baby body parts."

Arguing that the videos were heavily edited to distort the covertly recorded conversation and that it does not profit from fetal tissue donated to medical researchers, Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Even so, the health care network announced in October that it would no longer accept any reimbursement for the expenses it incurs in providing the tissue to researchers.

The dispute over access to abortion runs deep among Americans, and it is often presented as overly simplistic, as The Christian Science Monitor's Jessica Mendoza reported last year.

“The political imagination we have pits two very strong goods against each other,” says Fordham University ethicist Charles Camosy. “Babies are babies, and we ought to protect babies from violence. And women are persons, and we ought to allow them to make decisions about their bodies.”

“When people try to hold these two values together, it becomes more complex, and it doesn’t fit into 140 characters or a headline. It doesn’t work for campaign sound bites,” he continues. So politicians, advocates, and the media do the easier thing, Professor Camosy says: “We pull away into these two camps and lob grenades at each other.”

Abortion services constituted only 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provided in 2014, according to its annual report. Tests for sexually transmitted infections and diseases constituted the largest segment, 45 percent of all services, followed by contraception at 31 percent, other women's health services at 13 percent, and cancer screenings and prevention at 7 percent. The report counted nearly 10 million services rendered to 2.5 million patients that year.

Even so, state-level efforts to push back against legal abortion services have picked up pace since the 2010 midterm elections, with much of the attention directed toward Planned Parenthood.

"In 2011 you started to see this huge increase," Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health issues, told the Monitor in June. "You started to see abortion restrictions fly through state legislatures, and they haven't really stopped."

Mr. Trump has suggested that his incoming administration will side with conservative Republicans on the issue, though he has made public statements on various sides of the issue over the years. He has threatened to defund Planned Parenthood entirely, and his selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate concerned those in favor of abortion rights, as Governor Pence signed one of the strictest state abortion bills into law.

Trump himself, however, sent mixed signals during his campaign, saying Planned Parenthood has helped "millions of women."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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