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Planned Parenthood ban: Abortion, poor women at center of fight

June 07, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Cinthia Diaz, a family planning assistant with Planned Parenthood, takes a blood pressure reading from Tara Rogers at the organization's Plano, Texas, clinic.
Cinthia Diaz, a family planning assistant with Planned Parenthood, takes… (G.J. McCarthy / Dallas Morning…)

EL PASO -- A federal appeals court in New Orleans heard arguments Thursday over the legality of a Texas rule banning Planned Parenthood clinics from the state Women’s Health Program.

The three-judge panel from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was made up of Harold DeMoss, E. Grady Jolly and Carl Stewart. The court posted recordings of the oral arguments on its website.

“This case isn't about Planned Parenthood — it's about the women who turn to us for cancer screenings, birth control, and annual exams,” Planned Parenthood Texas affiliates said in a Thursday statement sent to The Times. “Today we were in court to stand up for them.” 

Gov. Rick Perry, who has supported banning Planned Parenthood from the program, stood by that position, a spokeswoman told The Times.

“We are confident in our case before the court,” Lucy Nashed said Thursday.

A lawyer for the state argued that a federal judge had improperly issued an injunction barring Texas from enforcing the new rule that would exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from participating in the taxpayer-funded women's program.

Texas Atty. Gen.  Greg Abbott's office asked the judges to lift the injunction because  the state is entitled to exclude groups affiliated with abortion providers.  

Texas Assistant Solicitor Gen. Kristofer Monson suggested  that Planned Parenthood clinics that want to maintain funding under the program drop "Planned Parenthood" from their names.

But Planned Parenthood attorney Helene Krasnoff disagreed that a name change would satisfy state funding requirements. She maintained that Texas' rule violates the 1st Amendment.

Judge Jolly seemed dubious that Planned Parenthood was so synonymous with abortion that the clinics' participation in the program interfered with Texas' interest in reducing abortions.

"Don't you think that the message that the state was trying to send has been muddled?" Jolly asked Texas' attorneys.

The  Women's Health  Program, which serves uninsured low-income women, last year had a budget of $41 million, of which about 90% came from the federal government. Planned Parenthood clinics received about $13 million.

The state rule, passed in February by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, barred groups affiliated with abortion providers from receiving money under the program, which provides services such as birth control and health screenings.

Clinics that provide abortions have long been barred from the program, but the new rule also bans 49 Planned Parenthood clinics that don't provide abortions.

In April, Planned Parenthood affiliates that run those clinics sued the state, contending that the rule violated the constitutional rights of the clinics and the women they serve.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin issued an injunction putting the new rule on hold while the court case progressed.

The Texas commission appealed, and a federal appellate judge stayed the injunction. But an appellate panel allowed the injunction to stand pending Thursday’s hearing.

It may take weeks for the court to issue a ruling. The case will then move back to Judge Yeakel for a hearing scheduled Oct. 19.

At least four other states have attempted to exclude Planned Parenthood from federally funded Medicaid programs -- Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin -- but those efforts have been blocked in court.

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