At the end of a three-day hearing, a federal district court judge in Austin, Texas, on January 19 issued a temporary injunction blocking state officials from excising Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program — a move that would deny more than 11,000 of the state’s poorest residents from accessing preventive care from their provider of choice, and would annually strip Texas Planned Parenthood clinics of several million dollars.
The current court action is just the latest in a long string of attempts by the state of Texas to defund local affiliates of the nation’s largest provider of women’s health and reproductive care. And it is part of a larger movement by conservative state and federal lawmakers to cut off Planned Parenthood from all government funding.
If anti-choice lawmakers in D.C. have their way, it may be easier for Texas, and other states, to get their way.
Yanking Medicaid funding from the group is among the top priorities for anti-abortion lawmakers. Planned Parenthood clinics receive $390 million annually as reimbursement for services provided to Medicaid patients, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Together, the group’s clinics serve roughly 1.25 million Medicaid patients per year.
Congress tried to terminate Planned Parenthood from Medicaid last year as part of its bid to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, only to have the measure vetoed by President Obama. Under the new D.C. regime, the measure will return — and it may be harder to stop.
“We don’t want to commit taxpayer funding for abortion, and Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a recent CNN town hall meeting, arguing that because “money’s fungible” federal dollars “float” Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.
In the pending Texas suit, Stuart Bowen, the inspector general for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the Medicaid program, is hoping to oust from program reimbursement all three of the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliates — Planned Parenthood Greater Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, and Planned Parenthood South Texas — which together operate a total of 30 clinics across the state.
In a termination letter dated December 20, 2016, Bowen wrote that it was footage from an undercover video shot inside Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s Houston headquarters that prompted his conclusion that all of the state’s providers had demonstrated they’re incompetent to provide care to Medicaid patients. Specifically, Bowen alleges that the footage — shot by activists Sandra Merritt and David Daleiden, founder of the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress — reveals that PPGC officials were eager to participate in a questionable scheme to harvest and sell fetal tissue removed from abortion patients.
Planned Parenthood’s abortion facilities are legally separate from their medical clinics. And although the footage in question was taken at just one Texas clinic operated by the PPGC, Bowen concluded that all three affiliates should be kicked out of Medicaid because of their umbrella relationship. In other words, Bowen has determined that the mere allegation of wrongdoing by one employee at one clinic is enough to disqualify all 30 clinics from serving government-insured clients. Notably, PPGC has not participated in any tissue-related research since 2011, when it completed a project with the University of Texas Medical Branch that used aborted placental tissue to study the effects of a particular chemical on fertility.
The three Planned Parenthood affiliates of Texas vehemently deny the state’s allegations. From the more than 8 hours of footage that was fraudulently collected in Houston by Daleiden and Merritt while posing as owners of a biotechnology start-up, the state has cherry-picked roughly 12 minutes, most depicting snippets of conversation, in an effort to paint the group as doing something unethical or even illegal, and to further its ongoing mission to cripple Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide preventive care.