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Planned Parenthood hits back

A group of Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates fired back at Texas last week, suing the state in federal court in hopes of blocking a new rule set to kick their clinics out of the Women's Health Program by the end of the month. The months-long standoff between Texas and the feds ended last month when the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services announced they'd stop funding the Medicaid-waiver program, which draws down $9 in federal cash for every $1 the state chips in to give thousands of low-income and uninsured Texas women access to basic health care and family planning services (think birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings). The program has helped Texas avoid some 17,00 Medicaid-paid unplanned pregnancies through family planning, not abortions.

The feds insist Texas' new rule banning "affiliates" of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from the WHP violates longstanding federal law allowing Medicaid patients to choose the health care provider of their choice. Governor Rick Perry has insisted on fighting the feds, vowing to scrounge up enough cash to keep the program afloat — at least $30 million a year — without Planned Parenthood's participation. The state sued the feds last month over the ordeal.

Texas' Planned Parenthood branches, including San Antonio's Family Planning Associates, filed for an injunction in federal court last week to stop enforcement of the new rule so their clients can participate past the April 30 deadline, when the state says it will withdraw WHP funds from their clinics. Those Planned Parenthood clinics currently serve nearly half of all women enrolled.

The rule barring Planned Parenthood and "affiliates" of abortion providers isn't new. It surfaced when the Lege created the WHP in 2005, though the state didn't enforce the rule over fears of its constitutionality. The lawsuit filed Wednesday points to a letter former Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins sent to state Senator Robert Deuell in 2009 saying, "implementing the subsection ban on contracting with organizations that are affiliates with abortion providers would likely be held unconstitutional by the courts."

The Planned Parenthood branches are arguing that very point in court, saying the new rule violates clinics' rights by putting "unconstitutional conditions on their eligibility to continue to participate in WHP." The lawsuit also claims the state's Health and Human Services Commission, charged with enforcing the new no-Planned-Parenthood rule, has "overstepped its authority in adopting a rule that conflicts with the purpose of the laws that created the program," namely that the law was created to expand the availability of health care to poor Texas women, not restrict it.

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