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Judge's Order Allows Planned Parenthood to Remain in Women's Health Program

A district judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining allowing Planned Parenthood to stay in the Women's Health Program, for now.

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A Travis County district judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order that allows Planned Parenthood to remain a part of the federally funded Women's Health Program in Texas, just one day after a federal appeals court rejected the health care provider's efforts. 

State District Judge Amy Clark-Meachum's order came in response to a lawsuit Planned Parenthood filed Friday in state court, arguing that Texas' plan to ban the organization from the Women's Health Program is invalid.

Despite the restraining order, Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials said the agency will continue with plans to launch a state-funded Texas Women’s Health Program that excludes affiliates of abortion providers from the program on Nov. 1.

While attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas argue the state is not yet equipped to serve the tens of thousands of women who rely on the program without federal funds, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek, M.D. said the new program will start as planned.

“We remain committed to enforcing state law and making sure women have access to family planning services,” Janek said in a statement. 

The latest legal challenge by Planned Parenthood claims that the "Affiliate Ban Rule" that bars it from participating in the Women's Health Program is invalid under Chapter 32 of the Texas human resources code, which makes the Women's Health Program subject to federal government approval.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said, "This chapter makes any provision 'inoperative' if it causes Texas to lose federal matching funds for the Women’s Health Program."

The provision that is the subject of the lawsuit passed in 2011 and forbid state agencies from providing funds to organizations affiliated with abortion providers. Planned Parenthood argues that the Texas Legislature could not authorize the Health and Human Services Commission to adopt the Affiliate Ban Rule because doing so would render the Women's Health Program ineligible for federal dollars.

Gov. Rick Perry tweeted shortly after the order was issued: "TX will keep fighting to protect innocent life, Travis Co court ruling ignores will of TX legislature."

In March, the Obama administration gave Texas notice that it would cut off all funds for the Texas Women's Health Program because of the state's decision to block clinics affiliated with abortion providers.

It said that a rule excluding a comprehensive women’s health care provider like Planned Parenthood restricted the rights of patients and would not be allowed in the Medicaid program. 

That same month, Perry announced the state would take over the Medicaid waiver program that serves tens of thousands of women so that it could exclude the Planned Parenthood locations. 

The federal support covered 90 percent of the $36 million program. That money could be headed back to the federal government.

Thursday, following the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that gave Texas permission to exclude abortion providers and their affiliates, Janek indicated the health commission would push to restore federal dollars to the Women's Health Program.

Health commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said state health officials met with the Texas Attorney General's Office on Friday to consider its options.

In response to Planned Parenthood's latest lawsuit, Perry said, "Having lost on its constitutional claims, Planned Parenthood has now turned to Travis County judges in a desperate effort to find some way to keep making money off Texas taxpayers."

The next hearing in the case is set for Nov. 8.

Separately, a lawsuit that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed is still pending. It challenges the constitutionality of the federal government to "commandeer and coerce the states' lawmaking processes into awarding taxpayer subsidies to elective abortion providers."

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