Judge Blocks Texas, for Now, From Removing Planned Parenthood as a Provider for the Poor

by | January 20, 2017

By Nicole Cobler

A federal judge Thursday issued a temporary injunction, blocking the state from ousting Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid program for at least a month.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks' ruling followed a three-day hearing in which lawyers for the state argued that removing the nonprofit from Texas' Medicaid program would have little effect on health care for poor Texans because plenty of other medical providers exist.

Planned Parenthood's termination from the state's Medicaid program was scheduled to occur Saturday, but Sparks' temporary injunction blocks that until Feb. 21. Sparks said he hoped to have an opinion written by then.

Sparks' ruling was related to timing and was not based on the merits of the case.

Jennifer Sandman, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, called the state's case against the Planned Parenthood "politically motivated" during closing statements Thursday.

"This termination is not based on any problem with the Medicaid service it provides," she said.

Throughout the hearing, attorneys for the state pointed to other health care facilities where women on Medicaid could receive care.

Jami Snyder, an associate commissioner for Medicaid at the Health and Human Services Commission, testified Thursday that she believes there are other providers that can serve women on Medicaid if the state removed Planned Parenthood from the program.

Snyder said the number of women going to Planned Parenthood facilities for health, including contraceptives and pregnancy tests, was about 12,500 out of the 4.3 million people in the state's Medicaid population.

She acknowledged that of the six providers that offer extended hours in Bexar County, four are Planned Parenthood facilities. In Tarrant County, five facilities offer extended hours and four of those are Planned Parenthood facilities.

"Not a single witness testified that they would be unable to continue services," said Andrew Stephens, lead attorney for the state, referring to employees for Planned Parenthood who testified that they would have to "wait and see" if they could maintain their services if the nonprofit was ousted from Medicaid.

The state's decision to cut Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program relied heavily on undercover videos distributed in 2015 by a California anti-abortion group, who claimed the videos showed employees of Houston's Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast discussing the procurement and sale of fetal tissue from abortions.

Selling fetal tissue is against federal law. The tissues, however, can be use for medical research, and agencies can be nominally compensated for the cost of storing and transporting the material to researchers.

No misconduct shown

Planned Parenthood officials have called the videos heavily edited and misleading. A Harris County grand jury cleared the clinic of any wrongdoing in February and instead indicted the undercover videographers. Those charges eventually were dropped.

During closing statements, Sandman said the videos did not show a willingness by Planned Parenthood employees to do anything wrong.

"There's simply nothing there that shows misconduct," she said.

The state showed several clips from the videos Wednesday and brought Texas Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. to the stand. Bowen, who said he watched the eight-hour video five times, issued the final notice of termination to the organization last month, saying that the videos showed Planned Parenthood had a history of "deviating from accepted standards."

On the witness stand, Bowen testified that he had no evidence Planned Parenthood was guilty of any ethical violations while obtaining fetal tissue, but that "there was interest to pursue such activities."

Previous funding loss

This is not the first time Planned Parenthood has faced funding cuts in Texas. In 2013, the state cut Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women's Health Program.

Amanda Stevenson, a University of Colorado professor, testified Thursday about the nonprofit's previous loss of funding. She discussed her article in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found a reduction in the rate of continuation for injectable contraceptives and an increase in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid. Stevenson said she predicted the state would see the same effects if Texas were to be ousted from the Medicaid program.

Attorneys for the state tried to poke holes in the study, pointing to some of Stevenson's tweets that showed her support for abortion rights legislation.

Sparks, however, said he would not consider Stevenson's testimony in the case.

"This is getting to be comical," he said. "Nothing Stevenson says is going to influence me in this case."

Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, called Thursday's injunction "pretty typical."

"It seems clear to us that Planned Parenthood should not be a Medicaid provider because they either have violated state or federal law, or they certainly are willing to and intend to in the future," Pojman said. "They have no business using taxpayer money.

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