Planned Parenthood branches in Texas have filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to block their exclusion from the state's Women's Health Program.
After Texas' Republican leaders indicated their intent to start enforcing a state rule that bans "affiliates" of abortion providers from participating in the Medicaid-funded contraception and cancer-screening program, the Obama administration pulled federal financing from the program. Gov. Rick Perry has vowed that the state will find the money to continue the program without federal help — and that the rule banning Planned Parenthood clinics will stand. No clinics participating in the program have performed abortions.
The lawsuit, filed today in Austin, asks the court for an injunction to stop enforcement of the rule so that the Planned Parenthood clinics would be able to remain in the program past April 30. Its filers argue the rule violates clinics' rights by putting an "unconstitutional condition on their participation" in the Women's Health Program. It also alleges that the Health and Human Services Commission, which is enforcing the rule, "overstepped its authority in adopting a rule that conflicts with the purpose of the laws that created the program."
In a conference call with reporters, Patricio Gonzales, the CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, warned that his four remaining clinics along the border are at risk of shutting down by the end of May because half of their patients are Women's Health Program clients. The Hidalgo County Planned Parenthood group already closed four other clinics last September as a result of state family planning reductions.
“We do not provide abortions, but we do support every woman’s right to make personal decision about her health,” Gonzales said. “We’re the largest women’s health care provider in our region. We know no one else can absorb 6,500 women in this region.”
Perry's office strongly disagrees. In a statement to The Texas Tribune, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said Texas will "not leave these women stranded."
"The state of Texas is under no obligation to provide taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, which accounts for less than 2 percent of the more than 2,500 [Women's Health Program] providers statewide," she said. "The Obama Administration’s decision to abandon the women participating in this program was a shameless pander to Planned Parenthood and its supporters."
Women's Health Program and Planned Parenthood client Rene Resendez of Odessa said she remains skeptical of the state’s plan to take over the program. A graduate student at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin who has no access to private insurance, Resendez participated in a Planned Parenthood conference call on Wednesday, saying she used to go to the clinic in Odessa for care until it shut down in March due to state family planning cuts. Resendez said she wants Planned Parenthood to remain a Women's Health Program provider because the group detected cervical cancer in her mother and provided referrals for care that ended up saving her life.
“Planned Parenthood has been a place my family can trust, and I should be able to decide who provides my health care,” she said.