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Federal judges lift Texas stay on Planned Parenthood funding

May 04, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Houston — A panel of federal appeals court judges ruled Friday that Texas cannot ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds while a federal lawsuit over funding is pending.

The lawsuit, filed last month, concerns a law Texas legislators passed last year that would have eliminated funding to 49 Planned Parenthood clinics Tuesday. On Monday, before that could happen, a federal judge in Austin granted an injunction barring the state from enforcing the law until the federal case is resolved.

Within 24 hours, the state had appealed and a federal appeals court judge had stayed the injunction.

Shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans effectively overruled the appeals court judge. The panel sided with the federal judge in Austin, ruling that there's evidence the new law preventing Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from participating in a Medicaid and state-funded health program is unconstitutional.

That program, the $35-million Women’s Health Program, provides healthcare screening and contraception to 130,000 women annually. Planned Parenthood officials, who continued providing services this week with no guarantee they will be reimbursed by the state, called Friday's ruling a "great day for women."

“This case isn't about Planned Parenthood — it's about the women who rely on us for cancer screenings, birth control, and annual exams,” Melaney A. Linton, president and chief executive of  Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.

“Our 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," she said.

It was not clear late Friday whether Texas officials planned further appeals.

“We will comply with the court’s order as the case proceeds,” Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for  Texas Health and Human Services Commission told The Times. The commission administers the Women’s Health Program.

“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.”

Gov. Rick Perry has supported the law, even after it led federal officials to pull Medicaid funding for the Women’s Health Program in March; that funding constituted about 90% of the program’s budget. Perry vowed to make up for the shortfall.

On Friday, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed told The Times: “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,” she said.

Both sides are expected to appear in federal appeals court to make their case the week of June 4, Goodman said.

Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office, released a statement saying, "No final decision has yet been made about the case. Texas will continue to present a full defense of Texas law as the case moves forward."

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com


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