A federal district court judge in Austin ordered the state of Texas to temporarily halt enforcement of a new rule that would have removed almost 50 Planned Parenthood clinics from the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program starting May 1.
In the decision, Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the Planned Parenthood organizations that filed the lawsuit blocking the rule proved there could be irreparable harm to their clinics that rely on WHP funding to help uninsured Texans access cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control and STD testing.
“The record demonstrates that plaintiffs currently provide a critical component of Texas’ family-planning services to low-income women,” Yeakel wrote. “The court is unconvinced that Texas will be able to find substitute providers for these women in the immediate future, despite its stated intention to do so.”
Planned Parenthood applauded the decision and the impact it will have on the lives of tens of thousands of Texans. “Tens of thousands of Texan women enrolled in the Women’s Health Program rely on Planned Parenthood for lifesaving cancer screenings, annual exams, and access to birth control. For many women, we are the only doctor’s visit they will have this year,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This ruling affirms what women have known all along: politics simply doesn’t have a place in women’s health.”
Representatives from the state did not immediately comment on the ruling. They have indicated plans to move forward with an “equivalent” program that is devoid of federal funding, including Medicaid dollars. If they do Judge Yeakel’s decision could be re-visited.
The court rejected the state’s argument that providing Planned Parenthood with government funds “for non abortion-related activities effectively ‘frees up’ organizational funds for use on abortion-related services.” Yeakel also wrote that Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs did not sufficiently prove that funding had been mismanaged or that the state can “condition participation” in the program.
In short, the decision calls out the political gamesmanship that had plagued Texas Republicans’ approach to women’s health care. “We call on Governor Perry and the state to put Texan women first and set aside any vendetta they may have against Planned Parenthood,” said Patricio Gonzales, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County. “No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor’s care because of shortsighted political games.”
The decision is a victory in the short-term, though this fight is far from over. Though Yeakel ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, he made clear this is a preliminary ruling that preserves the “status quo … until a thorough airing of the issues by trial occurs. The court observes that if the federal funds are phased out, Texas does not provide another source of funds, and the Women’s Health Program terminates, the controversy now before the court may be of no consequence.”
The good news is that for now poor women in Texas don’t have to worry about having access to life-saving cancer screens taken away, The bad news is that even a victory in this fight is one that must be hedged and celebrated cautiously since there seems to be no end for the right’s appetite for stripping women’s rights.
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