Texas blocked from defunding Planned Parenthood

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WASHINGTON — Texas is the latest state to suffer a judicial setback in its effort to eliminate government funds for Planned Parenthood.

Federal Judge Sam Sparks of Austin, in a Feb. 21 ruling, blocked enforcement of a December decision by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to disqualify Planned Parenthood affiliates from participation in the state’s Medicaid program. State Attorney General Ken Paxton promised to appeal Sparks’ opinion.

With the decision, Texas becomes at least the sixth state recently to be thwarted in the attempt to remove the country’s No. 1 abortion provider from its Medicaid program. Courts also have ruled against similar efforts by Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The HHSC move to terminate Planned Parenthood’s participation in Medicaid followed the release of undercover videos in 2015 providing evidence that at least some of its affiliates were trading in body parts from aborted babies. The secretly recorded videos showed various Planned Parenthood executives across the country discussing their sale of fetal parts as well as their willingness to manipulate the lethal procedure to preserve organs for sale and use.

In his opinion, however, Sparks said HHSC Inspector General Stuart Bowen disqualified Planned Parenthood in December minus “any evidence indicating an actual program violation warranting termination.”

Bowen’s reliance on the video of conversations between undercover investigators and a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) official provided no evidence of wrongdoing by the Houston-area affiliate of the national organization, Sparks said. Evidence was lacking that Planned Parenthood altered abortion procedures for research purposes, aborted babies to procure tissue for its own research and profited from obtaining tissue for research, the judge wrote.

Planned Parenthood proved it has a “substantial likelihood of success” in the case, thereby demonstrating it is entitled to a preliminary injunction against the state, Sparks said.

Sparks’ opinion came only four weeks after another undercover investigation refuted Planned Parenthood’s assertion it provides prenatal care as a primary service. The pro-life organization Live Action reported its special investigators requesting prenatal care were turned away by 92 of the 97 Planned Parenthood centers they contacted.

In promising to appeal, Paxton said Sparks’ opinion “flies in the face of basic human decency.”

“The raw, unedited footage from undercover videos exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts, as well as manipulate the timing and method of an abortion,” Paxton said in a written statement. “No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “We will never back down, and we will never stop fighting for our patients,” The New York Times reported.

The court fight in Texas comes as Congress seeks to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood and to protect the right of states to withhold money for the organization.

Congress is threatening to use the reconciliation process to cut about 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding and direct it to federally qualified health centers that do not perform abortions. A reconciliation bill enables the Senate to approve a budget-related measure with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster. Both the Senate and House passed such a reconciliation proposal last year, but President Obama vetoed the bill.

On Feb. 16, the House of Representatives voted 230-188 to repeal an Obama administration rule that effectively restricts states from prohibiting funds for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Five weeks before President Obama left office, HHS issued in mid-December the rule regarding the Title X program, which provides federal funds to states for family planning and preventive health services.

While PPGC — which has seven centers in the Houston area — is the focus of the Texas case, other Planned Parenthood affiliates also are part of the suit. All together, the 30 Planned Parenthood centers in Texas provide services to about 12,500 Medicaid patients.

Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15).

— by Tom Strode | BP

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