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Abbott files suit over WHP

Say what?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is filing yet another lawsuit against the federal government, this one, no surprise, over the Women’s Health Program.

Federal health officials announced Thursday what state leaders had predicted for weeks: that they are halting funding for the program — which provides contraception, well woman exams and cancer screenings for more than 100,000 women every year — over Texas’ decision to ban Planned Parenthood clinics from participating.

Texas’ Republican leaders make a states’ rights argument, saying they’ve got every right to pass rules that ban Planned Parenthood; the Obama administration says the move violates federal Medicaid law. Gov. Rick Perry has vowed to find the funds — some $30 million a year — to run the program without the federal government’s help.

You can see the suit here. Basically, the state is saying “You can’t tell us what to do with your money!” I’m no lawyer, but how exactly is it unconstitutional for the federal government to put conditions on matching funds like this? The Chron addresses that question.

Legal and political observers said the suit’s chance of prevailing hinges on the exact conditions that courts rule the federal government can impose on the funding it provides. They noted there’s a long history of courts finding the federal government can make rules for the funding, though they’ve also warned it can go too far.

Carl Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist, said the Obama administration’s demand is not capricious and that Abbott’s suit’s appears to be a losing battle.

“The law by which the federal government has transferred funds to help with women’s health issues gives women the choice of providers they use,” said Jillson. “It doesn’t give states the right to select among providers those that women may choose. That’s the key issue.”

But Seth Chandler, a University of Houston health law professor, called the suit “a reasonable demand that courts clarify the meaning of the Medicaid provision used to justify the complete funding cutoff.”

Chandler noted that a district court’s 2011 temporary injunction nullifying an Indiana law that sought to cut off Medicaid funding to abortion providers is not a definitive precedent. The case, very similar to the Texas conflict, is awaiting a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

I have a hard time seeing how a requirement that patients be allowed to choose their medical provider is an unreasonable restriction. But since we know that Perry and Abbott and the rest of the Republicans believe they know better than all those poor, benighted women, it’s hardly a surpise that the state would make that argument. I think Rep. Garnet Coleman gets it right when he says this is just another frivolous lawsuit. We’ll see what the courts say. Postcards has more.

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2 Comments

  1. Aaron says:

    You’re obviously leaving out a major piece of information, the state initiated program included these same restrictions in 2005 – submitted in a waiver – and CMS approved. Not only that, but the program does not discriminate and target Planned Parenthood directly, but is clearly directed toward all abortion providers.

  2. Lawsuit abuse, indeed. The history here, because I’m one of those people who gets caught up on little details like facts:

    - Texas applied for the WHP waiver when Perry was governor and George W. Bush was president.
    - Texas asked that the state be allowed to exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider, but Texas was told no, they could not exclude PP and still participate in the program.
    - Knowing they could not exclude PP, they enacted the WHP anyway. They did not sue the Bush administration with a states’ rights claim.

    They’ve known all along that they would lose funding if they excluded Planned Parenthood. That was the rule under the Republican administration. The Obama administration did not change the rule.

    Perry, Abbott, et al. who are trying to frame this as ‘Obama is dissing Texas’ are willfully ignoring the facts and lying to the public.

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