An Ignorant Rule?

Planned Parenthood refuses to cow down to Rick Perry: Sues Texas to keep clinics open

Planned Parenthood refuses to cow down to Rick Perry: Sues Texas to keep clinics open

Austin Photo Set: News_christina_planned parenthood_jan 2012_touch
If the legislature's rule passes, funding will be cut for tens of thousands of Texas women beginning after April 30. 
Planned Parenthood logo
Planned Parent affiliates in Texas are fighting back with a federal lawsuit. . .  Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood
Austin Photo Set: News_christina_planned parenthood_jan 2012_touch
Planned Parenthood logo

The so-called "war on women" continues — but as we all know, ladies won't go down without a fight. 

On Wednesday, Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates filed a federal lawsuit in Austin to block a rule recently adopted by Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which — if enacted — will exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates from the Women's Health Program (WHP).

This year, 130,000 Texas women have gained access to the WHP program, and more than 40 percent of those women have elected to receive treatment at Planned Parenthood health centers.

Anna Merlan of the Dallas Observer described the background of the contentious rule in February:  

Last legislative session, Republican lawmakers added language to the WHP rules banning family planning clinics that are "affiliated" with abortion providers from taking part in the program, something clearly aimed at cutting Planned Parenthood out. The only problem with that: The feds provide 90 percent of the money for the WHP, and federal Medicaid rules say you can't block qualified healthcare providers from participating in a Medicare or Medicaid program. . . . Despite that, Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs signed a rule [on February 23] that does just that. The new rules formally ban healthcare providers with "abortion affiliates" from participating in the WHP."

Plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit are Planned Parenthood of Austin Family Planning, Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, Planned Parenthood Association of Lubbock, Planned Parenthood Association of Cameron & Willacy Counties, Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, Planned Parenthood of Central Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Planned Parenthood of North Texas and Planned Parenthood of West Texas.

 If the extension isn't granted, the future looks grim for Planned Parenthood's Texas affiliates. 

 None of the above clinics provide abortion services. They are legally and financially separate from abortion service-providing Planned Parenthood organizations and from the organization's national office. 

The lawsuit

"What we're asking for first from the court is a preliminary injunction," Pete Schenkkan, attorney with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, said during a conference call.

That order must be issued by April 30, at which point the state will cut off funding to abortion affiliates. 

The lawsuit argues that the rule is unconstitutional under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, claiming that the rule violates the Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates' constitutional rights because it imposes an unconstitutional condition on their participation in the program.

Schenkkan also argues that the rule violates state statute, because it defeats the purpose of the WHP — a program that, beyond providing low-income women with services including contraception, family planning counseling and education and wellness exams, saves the state money ("A lot of money," according to Schenkkan) by reducing unintended pregnancies.

If the extension isn't granted, the future looks grim for Planned Parenthood's Texas affiliates. 

Patricio Gonzales, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, says that his organization had to shut down four clinics when it lost $3.1 million in budget cuts last year. If federal funding through the WHP cuts off on May 1, he says that two or three of the PPAHC's four remaining clinics will close their doors.

"There is no other provider in the region who could absorb 6,500 women," Gonzales said. 

"In the end, it's the women of Texas that will suffer," said Randall Ellis, senior director of government relations for Legacy Community Health Services in Houston. Ellis says that other federally-qualified health centers lack the funding and the manpower to provide sufficient care to the women who would be abandoned if the funding runs out.