A federal judge has blocked Texas from withholding Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood centers in the state, ruling that state officials had no cause to terminate funding for the providers.

In his Feb. 21 decision, Judge Sam Sparks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas temporarily barred Texas from taking funds from Planned Parenthood while the case proceeds. Restricting the money would deprive Medicaid patients of their right to obtain health care from their chosen providers and would potentially disrupt care for 12,500 Medicaid patients, Judge Sparks wrote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) pledged to appeal the ruling.

“[The] decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement. “The raw, unedited footage from undercover videos exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts, as well as manipulate the timing and method of an abortion … No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct. We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”

Planned Parenthood representatives did not return messages seeking comment on the ruling.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) terminated funding for its Planned Parenthood providers in the state following a 2015 video by two anti-abortion advocates that purported to show representatives of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (Houston) contracting to sell aborted human fetal tissue and body parts. State authorities investigated the facility and found no wrongdoing, but a grand jury indicted the two anti-abortion activists for using fake names and identities.

Separate investigations by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and HHSC also found no wrongdoing, according to court documents. In December 2016 however, HHSC sent termination letters to five Texas Planned Parenthood centers, stating that the facilities were not qualified to provide medical services in a “competent, safe, legal and ethical manner” under state and federal law, according to court records. The providers and several patients sued.

In his ruling , Judge Sparks said he found no evidence indicating that an actual program violation occurred warranting termination of funding for the providers.

“After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the court finds the Inspector General, and thus HHSC, likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause,” Judge Sparks wrote. “The individual plaintiffs have met their burden to establish a likelihood of success on the merits. The Inspector General did not have prima facie of evidence, or even a scintilla of evidence, to conclude the basis of termination set forth in the final notice merited finding [the plaintiffs] were not qualified.”

Similar efforts were overturned in Virgina after Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a bill that sought to restrict state and federal funding from Planned Parenthood providers in the state. In a statement , Gov. McAuliffe said the bill would have harmed Virginians who rely on health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers by denying them access to affordable care.

Similar legislation to defund Planned Parenthood providers was introduced by Michigan lawmakers in February.

In addition, efforts are underway at the federal level. On Feb. 16, the House passed H.J.Res.43, which would allow states to withhold Title X family planning funds from providers that offer abortion services, overturning a rule put in place at the end of the Obama administration. The resolution passed 230-188, largely along party lines. It would strike down the Obama-era rule via the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn new regulations within 60 days of their passage. H.J.Res.43 is currently before the Senate.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists expressed disappointment with the House resolution.

“The resolution allows states to discriminate against women’s health care providers for reasons unrelated to qualifications or best practices,” according to an ACOG statement. “Under this resolution, states could disqualify health centers, including Planned Parenthood, from providing Title X contraceptive and preventive care to over 4 million individuals. The Title X program is the only federal grant program exclusively dedicated to providing low-income patients with access to effective family planning and related preventive health services, including contraceptive care. Contraceptive access is essential to helping women achieve greater educational, financial, and professional success and stability. It’s critical to the economic success of this population.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised that the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act will include a measure stripping funds from Planned Parenthood.

agallegos@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @legal_med

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