HOUSTON — A federal judge on Monday stopped Texas from banning Planned Parenthood clinics from a state women’s health program because the organization provides abortions.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin cited evidence that the state rule excluding Planned Parenthood from the program was unconstitutional and imposed an injunction against enforcing the rule until he can hear arguments in the case.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office appealed the injunction, which temporarily stopped 49 Planned Parenthood clinics from being removed from the state program.
Planned Parenthood officials in Texas praised the judge’s ruling, which they said helps protect the women they serve.
“Politics simply doesn’t have a place in women’s health,” said Melaney A. Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. “We call on Governor (Rick) Perry and the state to put Texan women first and set aside any vendetta they may have against Planned Parenthood. No woman should ever have to fear being cut off from her doctor’s care because of shortsighted political games.”
Linton noted that Texas leads the nation in the percentage of residents who are uninsured, including one in four Texas women.
The provision at issue was part of a law passed last year by Texas legislators. It would have barred the Texas Women’s Health Program from giving money to organizations affiliated with abortion providers as of Tuesday, including Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers threatened that if banned groups successfully sued for funding, the entire program would be scrapped.
The program spends about $35 million a year to provide cancer, diabetes, cholesterol screenings and contraception to about 130,000 low-income, uninsured women.
Last month, federal officials withdrew the program’s Medicaid funding, about 90 percent of its budget, saying the state rule violated federal law by preventing women from choosing the best available medical provider.
On April 11, officials at eight Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions sued the state, arguing the rule denied their freedom of speech and association.
In ruling Monday, Yeakel said the court was “particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women.”
Linton said the ruling maintained federal funding for providers under the program.
Perry, who supported the provision and promised Texas would cover federal cuts to the program, issued a statement through a spokeswoman Monday in support of the state’s appeal.
“Texas has a long history of protecting life, and we are confident in Attorney General Abbott’s appeal to defend the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the Women’s Health Program,” the statement said.
Both sides are expected to return to federal court in Austin for a scheduling hearing May 18.
(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times