Clinics Fire Back at Texas in Battle Over Funding

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Planned Parenthood claims Texas’ move to cut its Medicaid funding is a “politically motivated witch hunt” that came after 14 months of ongoing state investigations yet to prove the health-care provider sells aborted-fetal tissue.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said in a Dec. 20 termination notice it plans to cut Planned Parenthood’s $4 million in annual Medicaid funding.

If a federal court does not intervene, Planned Parenthood will be forced on Jan. 21 to turn away the nearly 11,000 Medicaid patients who receive care at its 30 Texas clinics, the nonprofit said in an injunction motion filed late Friday.

Texas’ Republican leaders are proud of their crusade to end abortions in the state, which suffered a defeat last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, that a 2013 law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, placed an undue burden on women.

Texas took a new tack shortly after that setback, unveiling new rules that hospitals and clinics must bury or cremate fetal tissue after an abortion, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus.

With the fetal-burial rules set to take effect Dec. 19, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued and U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks issued an injunction delaying their implementation until Jan. 6.

Sparks is also presiding over Planned Parenthood’s court battle with Texas over the Medicaid funding.

Planned Parenthood says in court filings it provides annual checkups, cancer screenings, birth control and sexual-transmitted disease testing with a focus on poor patients, many of whom have little time between child care and work obligations to visit a clinic.

The clinic says the funding cut could make it hard for its Medicaid patients to find alternative care.

“Not only will patients lose their known and preferred provider, many will also face difficulties finding other providers who will see them, especially if they have a condition requiring urgent care. In part because of low reimbursement rates and onerous reimbursement policies, Texas suffers from a shortage of willing Medicaid providers,” according to the motion for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction.

Despite Planned Parenthood’s myriad services, Texas has maintained its laser focus on the fact that some of its clinics provide abortion or refer women to other abortion providers, though Medicaid funds in Texas are rarely used for abortions, the nonprofit says in its motion.

“Medicaid does not pay for abortions for Texas women except if their lives are in danger or if they are victims of rape or incest,” the motion states. Medicaid is jointly funded by federal and state governments.

In 2013, the federal government cut $30 million in annual federal family-planning funds it was paying Texas, after the state excluded Planned Parenthood affiliates from participating in its Women’s Health Care Program, which was 90 percent federally funded. Texas replaced it with its own health-care program for poor women in July 2016.

Planned Parenthood’s motion calls Texas “ground zero” in a national trend of Republican-controlled states trying to defund Planned Parenthood affiliates.

“Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, and Mississippi have each tried to terminate or exclude Planned Parenthood organizations from their Medicaid programs…But courts have unanimously prevented these terminations and agreed that preventing Medicaid enrollees from obtaining care from the qualified provider of their choice violates federal law,” the filing states.

The movement is fueled by a series of videos the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress filmed at Planned Parenthood clinics and posted on YouTube in 2015, which purport to show the nonprofit’s employees negotiating to sell aborted-fetal tissue.

Though the videos led officials in 11 states and four congressional committees to launch investigations, none have found evidence of wrongdoing.

“Defendants’ unprecedented and indefensible actions show these terminations to be nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt and the culmination of a concerted effort over more than a decade to come between the provider plaintiffs and the thousands of low-income patients they serve for a variety of family planning and sexual health needs,” Planned Parenthood’s motion states.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, asked former Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to investigate Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, or PPGC, in August 2015, based on a video that Center for Medical Progress’ founder David Daleiden shot at PPGC’s Houston headquarters in April 2015.

A grand jury declined to press charges against Planned Parenthood, but instead indicted Daleiden in January 2016 on two counts: tampering with a government record, a second-degree felony, and a misdemeanor for his alleged offer to purchase human organs.

The tampering charge stemmed from the fake California driver’s license Daleiden showed to get into the clinic while posing as an agent of a fictitious biotechnology firm. Daleiden’s charges were dismissed last summer. He defended his right as a “citizen journalist” to expose Planned Parenthood throughout the proceedings.

Planned Parenthood claims in its Dec. 30 motion that Texas’ latest defunding effort was spurred by a letter U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., chair of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, sent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in early December asking him to investigate PPGC’s alleged involvement in fetal-tissue donation.

Shortly thereafter, Texas notified PPGC and four other Planned Parenthood affiliates it was cutting their Medicaid funding.

“The unedited video footage indicated that Planned Parenthood follows a policy of agreeing to procure fetal tissue, potentially for valuable consideration, even if it means altering the timing or method of an abortion,” according to the state’s final terminate notice.

In its injunction motion, PPGC says it does not perform abortions, and neither itself nor its abortion-provider affiliate Planned Parenthood Center for Choice, or PPCFC, has any such policy.

Planned Parenthood admits in the motion it used to donate fetal tissue.

“While PPCFC is not currently involved in any fetal tissue donation and has not been for several years, it has facilitated such donation for a limited number of research projects in the past, most recently for a project requiring placental tissue at a major Texas public medical school and research institution,” the motion states.

Texas claims it has an unedited version of the video that justifies its decision to cut the Medicaid funding, but Paxton has yet to give Planned Parenthood’s attorneys a copy, according to the motion.

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the motion, or provide a requested estimate on how much the state has spent defending against the lawsuit Planned Parenthood originally filed in November 2015.

Texas sent Planned Parenthood a preliminary notice in October 2015 that it planned to cut the provider’s Medicaid funding, leading the nonprofit to sue the state in Austin federal court on behalf of 10 Jane Does who want to keep getting care at its Texas clinics.

Planned Parenthood and the 10 women are represented by Thomas Watkins with Husch Blackwell in Austin, and by attorneys with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s New York City and Washington, D.C. offices.

Watkins didn’t respond Tuesday when asked if he knows when Paxton will provide Planned Parenthood with the unedited Center for Medical Progress video.

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