Texas Funding Tactic Would Hurt Women, Groups Say

     (CN) - Planned Parenthood has filed a federal complaint to remove a new legislative hurdle that would block their continued participation in a Texas-funded health program aimed at low-income women.
     Though they do not provide abortions, the nine Texas-based Planned Parenthood affiliates behind the lawsuit say they are being targeted for their advocacy of the procedure and their affiliation with abortion providers.
     Scheduled to take effect May 1, a new Texas law will exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women's Health Program, according to the complaint in Austin.
     The Planned Parenthood affiliates say the rule violates their rights under the First Amendment, restricting free speech by disqualifying groups for their association with abortion advocates and providers.
     They also argue that the rule is a violation of their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment because it treats them differently from "hospitals licensed under Texas Health and Human Safety Code, Chapter 241, that perform or 'promote' abortions and/or are 'affiliated' with entities that perform and 'promote' elective abortion as those terms are defined in the Rule without adequate basis for the differential treatment."
     The affiliates also challenged the rule under a state law aiming to provide health care services to low-income women.
     Ultimately, the rule will irreparably harm Planned Parenthood patients and is a disservice to the public interest, according to the complaint. The affiliates say they operate 49 centers in the state that have allowed women to enroll in the Texas Women's Health Program since its inception in 2005. Over 49 percent of program participants received care from a Planned Parenthood provider, according to the suit.
     "Plaintiffs' combined reimbursements from WHP totaled nearly $13 million during fiscal year 2010; loss of that funding will severely impact their operating budgets," the complaint states. "Without this funding, plaintiffs will be forced to reduce services, close clinics, and/or lay off employees. Once these actions are taken by Plaintiffs, it would be very expensive - if not impossible - for them to resume operations as they are today."
     The WHP had originally been federally funded, but the Department of Health and Human Services pulled its aid after Texas adopted the new rule.
     Texas sued the U.S. government last month in Waco over that decision, which it claims unconstitutionally seeks "to commandeer and coerce the states' lawmaking processes into awarding taxpayer subsidies to elective abortion providers."
     The WHP provides family planning and related health care services for women 18 to 44 with income at or below 185 percent of the poverty level, who do not qualify for health care coverage under Medicaid. Before the funding withdrawal, the federal government covered 90 percent of the cost of family-planning services, while the state paid for the rest. Texas and the federal government shared program administrative costs equally.
     The affiliates seek an injunction to maintain the status quo and restrain enforcement and execution of the rule. They are represented by Pete Schenkkan with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody.
     "This rule impermissibly penalizes Planned Parenthood, and has the effect of restricting Texans' access to health care," Schenkkan said in a statement. "We are asking the court to ensure Planned Parenthood can continue to provide Women's Health Program services to these women."