Court: Texas can cut off Planned Parenthood funds

August 22, 2012 - 2:36 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas officials are vowing to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood after a federal court sided with the state in a challenge over a new law that bans clinics affiliated with abortion providers from getting money through a health program for low-income women.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans late Tuesday reversed a federal judge's temporary injunction that was allowing the funding to continue pending an October trial on Planned Parenthood's challenge to the law.

State officials are seeking to halt money to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and health services as part of the state's Women's Health Program because the Republican-led Texas Legislature passed a law banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood provides services like cancer screenings — but not abortions — to about half of the 130,000 low-income Texas women enrolled in the program, which is designed to provide services to women who might not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

The appeals court's decision means Texas is now free to impose the ban.

"We appreciate the court's ruling and will move to enforce state law banning abortion providers and affiliates from the Women's Health Program as quickly as possible," Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Commission, said in a statement.

The ruling is the latest in the ongoing fight that has pitted Texas against the federal government. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says that the new state rule violates federal law. Federal funds paid for 90 percent, or about $35 million, of the $40 million Women's Health Program until the new rule went into effect. Federal officials are now phasing out support for the program.

Gov. Rick Perry has promised that Texas will make up for the loss of federal funds to keep the program going without Planned Parenthood's involvement. In a statement, Perry called Tuesday's ruling "a win for Texas women, our rule of law and our state's priority to protect life."

"Texas will continue providing important health services for women through this program in spite of the Obama Administration's disregard for our state law and unilateral decision to defund this program," he said.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said the case "has never been about Planned Parenthood — it's about the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, birth control and well-woman exams."

"It is shocking that politics would get in the way of women receiving access to basic health care," Richards said in a statement.

The case began when Planned Parenthood sued, saying the new Texas law violated its rights to free speech. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott countered by arguing that lawmakers may decide which organizations receive state funds.

A federal judge in Austin ruled that the funding should continue pending the trial on Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, saying there's sufficient evidence the state's law is unconstitutional.

But the three-judge appellate panel disagreed, unanimously finding that Planned Parenthood was unlikely to prevail in future arguments that its free-speech rights were violated.

Abbott cheered the decision, noting that it "rightfully recognized that the taxpayer-funded Women's Health Program is not required to subsidize organizations that advocate for elective abortion."

It comes as conservative groups across the nation try to pass and enforce laws to put Planned Parenthood out of business and make getting an abortion more difficult. Earlier this year the same court upheld a new Texas law requiring doctors to perform a sonogram and provide women with a detailed description of the fetus before carrying out an abortion.