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Planned Parenthood vs. Texas: Funds in limbo pending ruling

HOUSTON -- The brinkmanship continues as Texas battles to cut government funding to Planned Parenthood.

Texas legislators passed a law last year to effectively remove Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program as of today.

Planned Parenthood clinics had sued the state to maintain funding and appeared to have won a victory Monday when a federal judge in Austin issued an injunction that prevented Texas from withdrawing funds from 49 clinics. But early Tuesday, a federal appeals court judge stayed the injunction, pending an appeal by the state filed late Monday.

Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans gave Planned Parenthood until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file an opposition brief that he will consider before ruling on the state’s appeal.

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The stay appeared to throw Planned Parenthood funding under the Medicaid Women’s Health Program into limbo.

Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, told the Los Angeles Times that, under the stay, Planned Parenthood “is now banned from receiving funding from the state to participate in the WHP” pending the judge’s ruling.

Said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission: “This ruling allows the state to fully enforce state law today and exclude abortion providers from the Women’s Health Program. That means that ineligible providers, including Planned Parenthood, are no longer eligible to bill the Women’s Health Program.” The commission administers the Women’s Health Program.

In March, federal officials withdrew their funding for the $35-million Medicaid program, eliminating about 90% of its budget, saying the state ban on abortion providers violated women’s federal right to pick the best available healthcare provider.

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Planned Parenthood officials had thought that federal funding might be restored once the injunction was issued but they were unclear Tuesday on what would happen now that the injunction has been stayed.

“We’re planning to continue to see women who are enrolled in the WHP because we don’t want to confuse them any more than the state has,” said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast based in Houston.

She said several other Planned Parenthood affiliates across the state also planned to continue providing services for which they’d been reimbursed by the state in the past.

“It may be that the services we provide today will not be reimbursed because of the judge’s and the state’s actions last night,” Tafolla said. “This is a midnight deal and we need to see the women that are relying on us.”

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Tafolla said Planned Parenthood’s attorneys plan to submit opposition briefs later Tuesday and “hope the judge sees the state judge was correct in granting the injunction.”

It was not clear how soon Smith could act once he receives Planned Parenthood’s response.
“There are over a 100,000 women that are relying on this program, so I’m hoping that the judge will act quickly,” Tafolla said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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