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Planned Parenthood sues Texas

Two can play at that game.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block a rule aimed at excluding their health centers from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Austin, asks the court to file a preliminary injunction to block a rule aimed at excluding Planned Parenthood from participating in the program.

Texas legislators approved a rule in 2005, denying participation in the program to any clinic affiliated with an abortion provider.

They delayed enforcement due to concerns that the law violates federal regulations requiring Medicaid programs to be open to any qualified provider but began enforcing it last month, although funding to Planned Parenthood has been continued through April.

The lawsuit argues that the rule places an unconstitutional condition on Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to participate in the Women’s Health Program by seeking to restrict how funds not provided by the program are used.

Here’s the press release that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Inc., one of the six affiliate plaintiffs, sent out about the suit:

Right there with them

In the lawsuit filed today, the Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates argue that the rule, which was purposefully designed to make them ineligible to continue to participate in the Women’s Health Program, violates their constitutional rights because it imposes an unconstitutional condition on their participation in the program and thereby harms the tens of thousands of low-income women who rely on them for basic, preventive health care. The lawsuit also claims that the rule violates Texas state law because the Health and Human Services Commission overstepped its authority in adopting a rule that conflicts with the purpose of the laws that created the program.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas are being represented by attorneys from the Texas firm Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, and are joined by Planned Parenthood Federation of America attorneys in the suit.

In Texas, the Women’s Health Program is fundamental to improving the health of Texan women, serving as a vital source of health care coverage for women of all ages. Currently more than one-quarter of Texan women are uninsured, and women in Texas have the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the U.S.

“Planned Parenthood is very important to me and my family. When my mom was my age and pregnant, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Planned Parenthood. They helped her with additional testing and a referral to where she could get treated,” said Rene Resendez, a 24-year-old uninsured student from West Texas who has relied on Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Health Program since 2007. “Without the Women’s Health Program and Planned Parenthood, I don’t know what I would do, or where I would go for the cancer screenings I know I need. Planned Parenthood has been a place my family can trust and I should be able to decide who provides my healthcare.”

Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas have been critical to the success of the Women’s Health Program. Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of care within the Women’s Health Program and consistently delivers high-quality care to low-income women. In fact, over 40 percent of the women who receive services through WHP chose to rely on a Planned Parenthood health center.

“Planned Parenthood belongs in the Women’s Health Program and is standing up for tens of thousands of their patients today,” said Randall Ellis, senior director of Government Relations at Legacy Community Health Services, a federally qualified health center in Houston. “It takes the entire spectrum of providers, including Planned Parenthood, to meet the needs of the growing population of low-income Texans without access to reproductive and other basic health care services.”

If the new rule is enforced, Planned Parenthood would be barred from participating in WHP after April 30, leaving tens of thousands of Texan women unable to obtain preventive health care services from the health care provider of their choice.

“This rule impermissibly penalizes Planned Parenthood, and has the effect of restricting Texans’ access to health care,” said Pete Schenkkan, attorney with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody. “We are asking the court to ensure Planned Parenthood can continue to provide Women’s Health Program services to these women.”

You can see a copy of the complaint here. One of the background facts they mention in the press release is that the federal government made it clear to all 50 states that a rule excluding a comprehensive women’s health care provider like Planned Parenthood restricts the rights of patients and would not be allowed in the Medicaid program. I seem to recall that one of the arguments that folks like Rick Perry make against Obamacare is that it’s “government intrusion” into your health care decisions. The fact that what the state has done here is exactly that seems to have escaped his notice. I should add that as State Rep. Garnet Coleman pointed out in his interview with me, there are private physicians in Texas who perform abortions, and they and their patients are as affected by this legislation as Planned Parenthood is. If you are a WHP patient seeing one of these doctors for any reason, you’d have to find a new doctor or lose your coverage. Planned Parenthood was clearly the target of the fanatics in the Legislature as well as Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, but they weren’t the only casualty. I hope this lawsuit can rectify that, though if it gets appealed to the Fifth Circuit all bets are off. Juanita, Trail Blazers, Postcards, BOR, Stace, and the Trib have more, while State Sen. Jose Rodriguez has a statement lauding Planned Parenthood for their action.

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