(CN) – Texas cannot prevent Planned Parenthood from participating in a state health care program for low-income women, the 5th Circuit ruled Friday, lifting a brief stay that kept the law in place.
In a federal complaint, 9 Planned Parenthood affiliates claimed that a new administrative rule set to take effect May 1 would unconstitutionally exclude them from the Texas Women’s Health Program. The affiliates say the rule bars them from participating in the program because they advocate for access to abortions and associate with entities that provide the services, such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted a preliminary injunction blocking the rule on Monday, April 30. The state quickly appealed the judge’s midday ruling.
By midnight the situation took a turn, when 5th Circuit Judge Jerry Smith temporarily granted the state a stay pending appeal.
Now, a three-judge appeals panel composed of Smith and two other circuit judges has vacated the stay.
“Regarding the balance of the merits, we cannot conclude, on the present state of the record, that the state has shown a great likelihood, approaching a near certainty, that the district court abused its discretion in entering the injunction,” the panel’s order states.
Yeakel’s order referenced a settlement in Planned Parenthood of Houston & Southeast Texas v. Sanchez that led to the establishment of the plaintiffs’ Planned Parenthood entities. The plaintiffs have received public funding, but they have done so by remaining legally and financially separate from those entities that perform abortions.
“Our conclusion rests in part on the state’s continuing reluctance to address the obviously relevant opinion in Sanchez,” the unsigned decision states. “Despite the plaintiffs’ and the district court’s having relied extensively on that authority, which binds this panel to the extent it is applicable, the state never mentioned it (as far as we can tell from the record) in the district court and did not refer to it in any way in its motion for stay pending appeal. Nor has the state sought leave to supplement its submission with a response to Sanchez or the plaintiffs’ focus on the affidavit referred to above.”
The panel opted sua sponte to expedite the appeal. Oral argument is scheduled for the first week of June.