Texas Planned Parenthood Lawsuit Holds Implications for Other States

Other states are pursuing similar actions, as the case reaches federal court.
by | June 7, 2012 AT 4:00 PM
Abortion rights supporters rally at a Planned Parenthood in Austin, Texas, in March. (Photo: scATX/Flickr CC)

The ongoing saga between Planned Parenthood and the state of Texas continued Thursday as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments to decide whether the state must continue giving public money to Planned Parenthood. At issue is the constitutionality of the state's de-funding of the program.

In April, Gov. Rick Perry’s administration announced that Planned Parenthood would no longer  receive funding from the state Women's Health Program (WHP), citing state law that prohibits public funding for organizations that perform abortions. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel issued a preliminary injunction that allowed Planned Parenthood to continue participating in WHP until the court issues its final ruling on the state's policy.

The state appealed the preliminary injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court, and a decision on the appeal is expected soon after Thursday's hearing. The U.S. District Court is set to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Texas policy in October.

The Planned Parenthood clinics involved in WHP do not perform abortions, but according to Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, affiliation with abortion providers would be enough to be ineligible for public funding under state law.

“State law is very clear. It establishes qualifications for WHP providers and prohibits physicians, clinics and other providers that perform elective abortions or are affiliated with abortion providers to be eligible for Women’s Health Program funding,” Goodman told the Heartland Institute.

Planned Parenthood maintains that its expulsion from the program is unconstitutional. “Texas’s rule is unconstitutional because it restricts a recipient of public funds under the Women’s Health Program from engaging in constitutionally protected conduct related to abortion through separate entities using only its own private funds,” according to an informational packet released by Planned Parenthood addressing the case.

WHP was implemented in 2005 when Texas partnered with the federal government to expand access to preventive health services to low-income women. It allows low-income women to pay for preventive health care such as breast screenings, cervical cancer screenings and birth control through their Medicaid coverage.

As Texas awaits a final ruling on its de-funding of Planned Parenthood, other states have headed down the same road. According to the Susan B. Anthony List, which advocates for continued funding of the program, nine states (including Texas) have enacted policies that de-fund Planned Parenthood. Two more states have taken similar steps in the last month.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act into law last week. The act cuts all state funding for Planned Parenthood and any other organization that provides abortions.

Arizona never provided state money for abortion, but supporters of the law argue that if the state continues to fund Planned Parenthood, taxpayer money could be indirectly used for abortions.

“This is a common sense law that tightens existing state regulation and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions directly or indirectly,” Brewer said in a statement.

On May 23, Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introduced a bill, called the Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act, that also prohibits state funding for any organization that performs abortions. Metcalfe said that the proposal will not lower overall funding for women’s health; it will just direct the money to healthcare service providers who do not perform abortions.

“In reality, women in Pennsylvania will be healthier and the children safer when we permanently defund Planned Parenthood and its anti-family agenda,” Metcalfe said in a statement.

Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, told Governing that she disagrees, pointing out that abortions make up less than 5 percent of services provided by Planned Parenthood.

“Health care shouldn’t be political,” said Stevens. “Our patients who are walking through our door for HIV testing are not thinking about politics, but clearly our politicians are. It is a sad, misguided attack on women’s health.”

Leigh Ann Renzulli | Leigh Ann Renzulli