Restraining Order Keeps Planned Parenthood in TX Women's Health Program

Today, Planned Parenthood clarified its position and its ability to carry on non-abortion related health services for low-income women across Texas.

As we reported the other day, District Judge Amy Clark Meachum issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) in the Planned Parenthood case against Texas.  Texas had just one day before announced plans to expel Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program (WHP) after a federal appeals court ruling favorable to the state's position.  However, Planned Parenthood sued Texas in state court to prevent the action, and Judge Meachum granted the TRO until November 8, where she will decide whether to bar any further moves by Texas until a full trial on the matter can be held sometime in the future.  

Crucially, Texas' exclusion of Planned Parenthood would not only shut down many centers offering access to women's health care for low-income women across Texas.  The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promised to cut off the funding spigot for Texas' WHP if Texas boots Planned Parenthood from the WHP.  Texas has previously held the position that it would forego these federal funds, although the federal government underwrites 90% of the funding for the WHP.  

In some circles, this is called cutting off your nose to spite your face.  

But what does this mean as a practical matter?  As Planned Parenthood noted today, Texas will continue to operate the WHP provided that federal funds remain available.  Since Judge Meachum's order bars Texas from expelling Planned Parenthood from the WHP, HHS has no reason to cut off funding to Texas.  For now.

The Planned Parenthood statement is reproduced below:

Texas Officials' Announcement Means Women's Health Program Patients Can Continue to Rely on Planned Parenthood for Health Care

"Our doors remain open today and always to Texas women in need," Planned Parenthood says

AUSTIN, TX - Texas officials will continue to operate the Medicaid Women's Health Program as long as federal funding remains available, even while they claimed they are "ready" to start a new, 100 percent state funded Texas Women's Health Program all so they can eliminate Planned Parenthood.  The program provides family planning and preventive health care, not abortion, but Texas officials have been trying to exclude from family planning services anyone who even "affiliates" with someone who advocates for a woman's right to access to safe and legal abortion.

Despite confusing statements from state officials, today's announcement means that Planned Parenthood can continue to be a part of the Women's Health Program as long as the "Affiliate Ban Rule" remains blocked by court order.  Planned Parenthood and WHP patients expressed relief upon the announcement that tens of thousands of Texas women will not yet experience a disruption in WHP services, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

"Today's announcement is an important victory for every woman who relies on the Women's Health Program for basic, preventive health care," said Ken S. Lambrecht, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.   "Our doors remain open today and always to every Texas woman in need of affordable, high quality health care."

Texas is scheduled to lose federal funding for the program at the end of the year because Texas officials insist on enforcing the "Affiliate Ban Rule" that bars Planned Parenthood from the program and denies women access to their choice of health care provider in violation of federal law.  Planned Parenthood is the largest provider in the Women's Health Program, and if it is banned, it will jeopardize health care access for tens of thousands of women and cost Texas taxpayers nearly $200 million over five years.

Planned Parenthood's lawsuit filed in state court last week addresses the existing Women's Health Program and preserves the status quo of a 90 percent federally funded program that has capacity to serve more than 100,000 women.

Texas officials claim that they are "required" to shut down the federally funded Women's Health Program if they cannot exclude Planned Parenthood.  The opposite is true.  The 2011 Legislature considered - but did not adopt - a so-called "poison pill" severability clause - a provision that would have ended the entire program if the "Affiliate Ban Rule" is found unlawful.

While state officials have pursued efforts to eliminate Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program for more than a year, many Women's Health Program enrollees who rely on Planned Parenthood have called upon state officials to set politics aside and put Texas women and families first.

"As a student, I live paycheck to paycheck and have no health insurance. If I didn't have access to affordable health care through Planned Parenthood, it would mean choosing between birth control and textbooks, breast cancer screenings or gas for my car," said Melissa Rangel, a Women's Health Program patient in Edinburg, where there aren't many alternate Women's Health Program providers besides Planned Parenthood available to her . "Planned Parenthood makes it possible for me to get the care I need, to be a successful student and keep healthy. They're the provider I know and trust. And there are tens of thousands of women in Texas just like me."

Recent research by the George Washington University has demonstrated Planned Parenthood affiliates are the dominant Women's Health Program providers of care in the areas in which they serve, caring for anywhere between 50-80 percent of Women's Health Program patients in some communities.  To offset the loss of Planned Parenthood health centers, other providers would have to increase their capacity between two- and five-fold.  In addition, a recent article in the American Independent details one patient's struggle to find an alternate provider in the Women's Health Program without Planned Parenthood. The author reports many misleading errors and duplicate entries in the state-run database of WHP providers.

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