Planned Parenthood Secures Injunction; Stays in Women's Health Program

The Austin-American Statesman is reporting that Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky today granted Planned Parenthood the temporary injunction it sought.  

Planned Parenthood was seeking a temporary injunction in order to stay in the Texas Women's Health Program (WHP).  Today's injunction ensures that they will remain in the WHP until there can be a full trial on the merits.  

Today's ruling bodes well for Planned Parenthood and women's health, generally, but the practical outcome is uncertain.

On the positive side, Judge Yelenosky's ruling means that he believes there is a fairly good chance of success for Planned Parenthood's argument that Texas' move to expel it from the WHP violates Texas law.  In order to secure a temporary injunction, the court must find that the party seeking the temporary injunction must show the examining court that it has a cause of action against the defendant, a probable, imminent and irreparable injury in the interim, and a probable right to the relief sought.  The court's finding of the last element should come as no small comfort to Planned Parenthood.  

As we wrote on October 27, Planned Parenthood is both proxy and hostage in a war between the federal government and the state of Texas.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has stated publicly that it will cut off federal funding to the Texas WHP by January 1 if Texas expels Planned Parenthood from the WHP.  Texas has countered that it will establish its own WHP, but without federal dollars.  

There are two obstacles to this.  First, as Planned Parenthood is arguing, Texas' acts violate state law, specifically Texas Human Resources Code, Chapter 32, which authorizes the WHP subject to approval from the federal government.  If the federal government does not approve (and it doesn't), then the Texas program is inoperative and cannot run without violating Chapter 32.

Additionally, the federal government provides 90% of the funds necessary to run the WHP.  If HHS cuts off funding (as it has promised to do), Texas will have to scramble to make up the mind-boggling shortfall.

This leads to the uncertain aspect of today's ruling.  There is no word yet on whether the injunction and Planned Parenthood's continued participation in the WHP will cause HHS to reverse its stance and continue federal funding.  As a result, while the parties wait for trial, it is possible that the federal government could defund the Texas WHP anyway.

It will be interesting to see if the federal government attempts to intervene or otherwise participate in the case.  While Texas won the case on free speech grounds in the notably conservative Fifth Circuit federal appeals court, at issue is interpretation of a state law that refers to approval from the federal government.  States other than Texas also have similar laws - provisions that hinge state action on federal approval in order to secure federal funding for projects that improve the lives of citizens in those individual states (e.g.: think highway dollars).  If Texas' action and interpretation of its own law is upheld, this could embolden the governments of other conservative leaning states to follow the same suit and point to Texas as persuasive authority, if not binding precedent, to distance themselves from the federal government in the name of federalism.  

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