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"I Stand With Texas Women"

A protest sign at a 2013 rally for women's healthcare in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Jac Malloy/flickr/cc)

Judge Stops Texas From Cutting Medicaid Funds for Planned Parenthood

Injunction blocks years-long state effort to cut funding for Planned Parenthood clinics

Nika Knight Beauchamp

A federal judge on Tuesday halted Texas' attempt to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in a scathing decision that found the state "likely acted to disenroll qualified healthcare providers from Medicaid without cause." 

"Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain healthcare from their chosen qualified provider," wrote District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin in his decision (pdf) in favor of a preliminary injunction against the state.

The injunction is just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga stemming from controversial anti-abortion videos released in 2015 by right-wing activists. (The activists were indicted by a Texas grand jury, which also cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, in 2016.)

The state of Texas began the process of blocking Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funds after the videos came out back in October 2015, even though the state's 30 participating clinics provide reproductive healthcare and cancer screenings, and not abortions, notes the Texas Tribune.

For reasons that are unclear, the state waited until December 2016 to send the clinics a final notice of the plan to disenroll them from Medicaid. Planned Parenthood had sued Texas to put a stop to the plans that would strip 12,500 women of their access to healthcare.

Sparks had sharp words for the state's actions in his decision, in which he observed that the state failed to provide "any evidence" of its allegations against Planned Parenthood:

A secretly recorded video, fake names, a grand jury indictment, congressional investigations—these are the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program. Yet, rather than a villain plotting to take over the world, the subject of this case is the State of Texas's efforts to expel a group of healthcare providers from a social healthcare program for families and individuals with limited resources.

Stalling for nearly a year after issuing an initial notice of termination, HHSC [the Health and Human Services Commission] reinitiated its efforts to terminate Planned Parenthood healthcare providers from the Texas Medicaid program. Following extensive investigations, the Inspector General's reasons for termination constituted unsubstantiated and indeterminate allegations, including a "policy of agreeing to" and a "willingness" to violate medical and ethical standards. Without any evidence indicating an actual program violation warranting termination, the Inspector General nevertheless acted to terminate one of the Provider plaintiffs from the Texas Medicaid program and sought to terminate the other Provider Plaintiffs by extension. After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus HHSC, likely acted to disenroll qualified healthcare providers from Medicaid without cause. Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain healthcare from their chosen qualified provider. The deprivation of that right is an irreparable injury in and of itself but could also disrupt the care of the 12,500 Texas Medicaid patients receiving services from Planned Parenthood.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, has vowed to appeal Sparks' decision.

Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director for Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said in a statement that the group "will fight tooth and nail to protect access to healthcare for all Texans," the Texas Tribune reported.

Sparks' decision came on the same day that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have cut Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood clinics.

The day's victories for reproductive rights come as emboldened anti-choice Republicans push on the state and federal levels to drastically cut women's access to healthcare.

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