US District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin ruled there is sufficient evidence that a law banning Planned Parenthood from the program is unconstitutional. He imposed an injunction against enforcing it until he can hear full arguments.
The law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature forbids state agencies from providing funds to an organization affiliated with abortion providers. Eight Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions sued the state. The clinics say the law unconstitutionally restricts their freedom of speech and association to qualify to take part in state health programs.
The judge accepted Planned Parenthood's argument that banning the organization from the program would leave women without access to clinics for basic health services and check-ups.
"The court is particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women," Yeakel wrote in his ruling. "The record before the court at this juncture reflects uncertainty as to the continued viability of the Texas Women's Health Program."
Texas officials have said that if the state is forced to include Planned Parenthood, they will likely shut down the program that serves basic health care and contraception to 130,000 poor women. Yeakel acknowledged that was a risk.
"The court observes that if the federal funds are phased out, Texas does not provide another source of funds, and the Women's Health Program terminates, the controversy now before the court may be of no consequence," he wrote.
"We call on Governor Perry and the state to put Texan women first and set aside any vendetta they may have against Planned Parenthood," Gonzales said. "No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor's care because of shortsighted political games."
The court's decision comes after the federal government cut off funding to Texas because of the state requirement. Federal officials said the rule violates federal law by restricting women from choosing the qualified medical provider of their choice.
Perry promised to make up for the lost federal funds. State health officials say maintaining the program was cheaper than allowing it to expire, because ending the program would result in a spike in unplanned pregnancies among poor women who rely on Medicaid, which is also funded by the state.
Yeakel's decision is temporary. A final decision will come after he presides over a full trial. Whatever decision he reaches will likely be appealed.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.