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In Court Reversal, Planned Parenthood May Stay in Women's Health Program

This latest ruling means the Health and Human Services Commission cannot exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from the Women's Health Program while a lawsuit on the matter is pending in district court.

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Updated, 5:10 p.m.:

This afternoon, Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman confirmed that Monday’s preliminary injunction is in effect. For now, the state cannot enforce its own rules banning the Planned Parenthood affiliates from participating in the Women’s Health Program.

“We will comply with the court’s order as the case proceeds. We also will continue to work toward a state program that provides women with access to vital family planning services and complies with the law that bans abortion providers from getting those funds,” Goodman wrote in a prepared statement.

Gov. Rick Perry’s communication staff indicated he is ready to continue fighting Planned Parenthood in court. Here’s their statement:

“Today’s developments do not change our concerted effort in coordination with Attorney General Abbott to defend the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the Women’s Health Program. We are confident in the attorney general’s appeal and will continue to pursue all available legal options in this effort.”

Meanwhile, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, praised the ruling.

"Among other reasons offered for the decision, the Fifth Circuit rejects the State's stance that the Women's Health Program will cease to operate immediately upon termination of federal funding, citing evidence indicating that such funding is continuing until November 2012. In the State's arguments, Attorney General Abbott continues to ignore the fact that abortion services and family planning services are separate as required by State law," Farrar wrote in an email to the media.

According to Planned Parenthood’s attorneys, the district court will require a meeting between the plaintiffs and the on May 18 to discuss a trial date. In the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, briefs are due intermittently throughout the month, ending with arguments during the week of June 4.

Original story:

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the emergency stay it granted to the state of Texas on Tuesday, meaning that  the Texas Health and Human Services Commission may not begin excluding Planned Parenthood clinics from the Women's Health Program while a lawsuit on the matter is pending in district court.

"This case isn't about Planned Parenthood — it's about the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood’s doors are open today and they'll be open tomorrow. We won't let politics interfere with the health care that nearly 3 million people a year rely on Planned Parenthood for in Texas and around the country."

In their order, the three appellate judges clarified that their ruling is temporary and does not guarantee that Planned Parenthood will remain in the program long term. However, they said they "cannot conclude, on the present state of the record, that the state has shown a great likelihood, approaching a near certainty, that the district court abused its discretion in entering the injunction."

It's been a whirlwind week for the 49 Planned Parenthood clinics that participate in the Texas program — and the patients who seek treatment from them. On Monday, a district judge in Austin granted Planned Parenthood a preliminary injunction that temporarily prohibits the state from excluding them from the Women's Health Program. (Clinics affiliated with abortion providers were to be disenrolled between May 1 and May 15.) Less than 24 hours later, Attorney General Greg Abbott successfully filed an appeal in the 5th Circuit that granted the state an emergency stay — meaning the health department could start disenrolling clinics. Now, that's on hold again.

We will update this story with further details and comment from the state. 

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