USA Justice First Look

Judge stalls Texas efforts to defund Planned Parenthood

The judge’s injunction will keep Medicaid funding flowing to Planned Parenthood until an upcoming court case can rule on the merits of Texas’ case for defunding the organization.

Planned Parenthood will remain eligible for Medicaid funds in Texas until a court rules on the merits of the state's case against the organization, a federal judge has determined.

On Tuesday, US District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin granted Planned Parenthood an injunction, temporarily blocking state lawmakers' efforts to terminate around $4 million in Medicaid reimbursements for non-abortion services to the organization. That effort, he wrote, “would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider.” The injunction will protect medical services for these patients until the case goes to trial, he indicated.

Texas will likely appeal the judge’s decision to grant an injunction, according to state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican.

"Today's decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency," he said in a statement.

Through Planned Parenthood, Medicaid currently funds services such as HIV screenings, birth control, and pregnancy tests for around 11,000 low-income women at 30 clinics statewide. But plaintiffs in the upcoming lawsuit have said none of the funding is directed toward abortion services. (Using federal money to fund abortions violates federal law.) 

Though Planned Parenthood funding is a perennial target of anti-abortion groups, Texas’ most recent claims that the organization is unfit for federal money sprung up following videos released in April 2015. The videos purported to show Planned Parenthood employees manipulating the timing of abortions for research purposes and trying to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue.

The videos, captured by anti-abortion activists posing as representatives of a biomedical company, were investigated in 13 states. All the investigations ended without charges. In Texas, a grand jury impaneled in January 2016 cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and indicted two activists responsible for the videos on counts of document fraud (though that charge was later vacated, CNN reported).

In his ruling Tuesday, Sparks repeatedly cast doubt on the veracity of the video. Texas dropped its criminal case against Planned Parenthood following the grand jury investigation, but the state continues to contend that the organization may have violated state law.

These concerns led Texas to issue a final termination notice on December 20, saying Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding would be withdrawn because the organization did not provide medical services “in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” according to The New York Times. 

Planned Parenthood said the state was unjustified in its claims, and in cutting off funding. It therefore sought an injunction against the move, which Sparks granted Tuesday after three days of hearings in January.

This is at least the sixth case in which state efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have been blocked by federal courts. Anti-abortion activists would like the federal government itself to cut federal funding to the group, a move that would result in nearly 400,000 women losing access to care, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found, according to the Associated Press.

Vice President Mike Pence strongly opposes abortion, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has supported cutting off taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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