Planned Parenthood Excluded from Women’s Health Program Until Trial

After several legal twists, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Texas can now block Planned Parenthood from its Women’s Health Program.
Wed August 22, 2012 6:59 pm
AP Photo | The Abilene Reporter-News, Joy Lewis

After months of legal wrangling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Texas can kick Planned Parenthood affiliates out of its Women's Health Program, lifting a preliminary injunction that kept the organization in the program until an October trial date.

To briefly recap: The Texas's Women's Health Program was created in 2005, and provides preventative care to 130,000 low-income women. The program received the bulk of its funding from the federal government, $9 federal dollars for every $1 from the state, Newsweek reported.

But new state regulations that were recently enacted barred clinics that "perform or promote elective abortions or affiliate with entities that perform or promote elective abortions" from receiving funding from the WHP. This rule means that Planned Parenthood's health centers, which provide preventative care and contraceptives—but not abortions—to thousands of Texas women, can no longer bill the state for services.

The feds initially objected to Planned Parenthood's exclusion. Then in March, "Gov. Rick Perry announced the state would forgo the $35 million in federal funding (the majority of the program's budget) and take over the program so it could exclude abortion providers and their affiliates," the Texas Tribune 's Thanh Tan reported. "Planned Parenthood affiliates sued the state to remain in the program."

Planned Parenthood's status in the state's Women's Health Program has been in flux since the legal battle began. On April 30, Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel granted a preliminary injunction that kept Planned Parenthood in the WHP. But later that same day, Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit took the unusual step of acting alone instead of on a three-judge panel and issued an emergency stay of that injunction, excluding Planned Parenthood from the program again. Four days later, a three-judge panel that included Smith reversed that stay, arguing that "no emergency existed to support it," putting PP back in the WHP.

Then on Tuesday a different Fifth Circuit panel that had taken some time to ruminate on the preliminary injunction decided to vacate it, which means Planned Parenthood is now cut off from state funding, according to Will Weissert of the Associated Press. That panel argued ( PDF) that the lower court's ruling was "based on a wholesale assessment of the regulations’ constitutionality, which gave insufficient attention to Texas’s authority to subsidize speech of its choosing within its programs."

Texas officials applauded the panel's decision. "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, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, wrote to the Tribune's Tan. In a statement, Perry dubbed the decision "a win for Texas women, our rule of law and our state's priority to protect life."

A hearing on the case is scheduled for October in federal court in the Western District of Texas.

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