Houston — A federal judge on Monday stopped Texas from removing Planned Parenthood clinics from a state women’s health program because the organization provides abortions.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin cited evidence that the state rule banning Planned Parenthood from the program was unconstitutional. He imposed an injunction against enforcing the law until he can hear arguments in the case.
The state immediately appealed.
The rule at issue was part of a law passed last year by Texas's Republican-controlled legislature and implemented by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. It barred the Women’s Health Program from funding organizations affiliated with abortion providers as of Tuesday, including Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers threatened that if banned groups successfully sued for funding, the entire program would be scrapped.
The program, funded with state and hefty federal matching funds, spends about $35 million a year to provide cancer, diabetes, cholesterol screenings and contraception to about 130,000 low-income, uninsured women across Texas. Had the rule taken effect, it would have removed 49 Planned Parenthood clinics from the program Tuesday.
Last month, federal officials withdrew Medicaid funding for the program, finding the state rule broke federal law by preventing women from choosing the best available medical provider.
Officials at eight Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions sued the state, arguing that the law violated their freedom of speech and association. Community health advocates across Texas complained the law would hobble the state program.
Yeakel ruled that the “court is particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women. The record before the court at this juncture reflects uncertainty as to the continued viability of the Texas Women's Health Program.”
Some Texas officials have threatened that if the courts force them to fund Planned Parenthood as part of the Women's Health Program, they will shut down the whole program instead.
Planned Parenthood officials in Texas praised Monday's ruling.
"Politics simply doesn’t have a place in women’s health,” said Melaney A. Linton, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in a Monday statement, noting that Texas officials, "would rather end the entire Women's Health Program, eliminating basic, preventive health care for more than 100,000 low-income women, than have Planned Parenthood continue to participate in the program."
"We call on Governor Perry and the state to put Texan women first and set aside any vendetta they may have against Planned Parenthood," Linton said. "No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor's care because of shortsighted political games."
She noted that Texas leads the nation in the percentage of residents who are uninsured, including one in four Texas women.
"More than 40% of women receiving basic, preventive care through WHP rely on one of Planned Parenthood's nonprofit health centers in Texas," Linton said.
Gov. Rick Perry, who supported the law and had promised to make up for the shortfall in federal funding, issued a statement through a spokeswoman Monday in support of the state’s appeal.
“Texas has a long history of protecting life, and we are confident in Attorney General Abbott’s appeal 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,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with the Attorney General to pursue all available legal options.”