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World & Nation

Judge blocks Texas from cutting off Planned Parenthood funds

Erica Canaut
Antiabortion activists demonstrate in Austin, Texas, in 2015.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

A federal judge on Thursday blocked Texas from ousting Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program over secretly recorded videos taken by anti-abortion activists in 2015.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks adds Texas to the list of Republican-controlled states that have been thwarted in efforts to cut off Medicaid dollars to the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Sparks postponed Planned Parenthood’s ouster until Feb. 21, but it is expected he will issue a ruling before then. Planned Parenthood would have lost the funding on Saturday had Sparks not intervened.

Other federal courts have similarly stopped Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas, which all cited heavily edited videos that claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing, and investigations in 13 states didn’t result in criminal charges.

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Planned Parenthood says it provides non-abortion services to about 11,000 low-income women in Texas each year through Medicaid. No public funding in Texas is used for abortion, while Medicaid reimbursements cover services that include well-women exams, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and birth control.

Texas has been aggressive in its efforts to weaken Planned Parenthood, including kicking the organization out of the state women’s health program in 2013.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Arkansas, a legislative committee voted Thursday to outlaw an abortion procedure that opponents call “savage” and “barbaric” and that others say is the safest way to end a pregnancy in the second trimester.

The proposal by a legislator who is also president of Arkansas Right to Life would ban dilation and evacuation, also known as a D&E abortion. The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee passed the measure Thursday on a voice vote.

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“We have not stopped a single abortion if we pass this bill,” Rep. Andy Mayberry said, telling colleagues that other, less-violent means are available to women seeking an abortion more than 12 weeks into their pregnancy.

Arkansas would be the third state to ban dilation and evacuation abortions, after Mississippi and West Virginia. Similar prohibitions are on hold amid court challenges in other states.

Arkansas officials say 18% of the state’s 3,771 abortions in 2015 were done through a D&E procedure.

Victoria Leigh, who testified against the bill on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the other means would be “incredibly invasive,” cost more and require a hospital stay. Planned Parenthood says the legislation is among the “extreme and ideological attacks” on women.

Mayberry, a Republican from suburban Little Rock, wants to outlaw the use of levered clamps, forceps, tongs or scissors to purposely dismember a “living unborn child.” He called the procedure “savage ... barbaric and ... cruel.”


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