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Planned Parenthood Challenges Affiliate Ban

AUSTIN (CN) - Planned Parenthood has taken its fight for Medicaid funds to state court, claiming Texas illegally eliminated affiliates of abortion providers from a health care program for low-income women.

Seven Planned Parenthood affiliates sued the Texas Health & Human Services Commission and Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek in Travis County Court.

State District Judge Amy Clark Meachum granted the affiliates a temporary restraining order Friday, saying the affiliates would likely suffer "irreparable injury, loss or damage" should the ban rules be enforced.

"A temporary injunction will strongly serve the public interest in continuing the availability of family planning and preventive health care services to tens of thousands of low-income Texas women," Meachum added.

The state Legislature passed administrative rules in 2011 that bar health care providers who participate in the mostly federally funded Women's Health Program (WHP) from performing or promoting abortions, or from affiliating with entities that do.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services responded by pulling federal funding from the state program altogether. Texas sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the lost funding and will go to trial in March 2013.

In a parallel federal complaint, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel enjoined the rules, but the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit vacated the injunction. Last week, the circuit court refused to grant a rehearing en banc.

"Plaintiffs' combined annual WHP reimbursements, which they will lose if the rules are enforced, total approximately $13 million per year," the Planned Parenthood affiliates claim in Friday's lawsuit in state court. "The loss of this funding would be devastating for plaintiffs, who will be required to close some health centers, reduce hours at other centers, and lay off staff members, defeating plaintiffs' core mission of providing essential family planning and preventative care and irreparably damaging continuity of care with many of the 48,000 low-income women whose access to care depends on WHP."

The affiliates seek declaratory and injunctive relief from the state court.

"WHP is authorized only as a Medicaid program for which federal funding is available," the affiliates say. "Because the affiliate ban rules result in a loss of that funding, the rules are not authorized and must be declared invalid."

Even if the state had the authority to adopt the rules, the plaintiffs say, it failed to provide a reasonable justification for banning Planned Parenthood affiliates. They emphasize that, contrary to the objectives of the Women's Health Program, the rules threaten to diminish women's access to health care in Texas.

"Rather than reduce abortion, the affiliate ban rules can be expected to increase abortion because they reduce women's access to family planning providers, and family planning services prevent unintended pregnancies, approximately half of which end in abortion," the lawsuit states.

Texas officials said they planned to launch a state-funded Texas Women's Health Program on Nov. 1 that excludes affiliates of abortion providers.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry criticized the latest lawsuit in a media statement:

"Having lost on its constitutional claims, Planned Parenthood has now turned to Travis County judges in a desperate effort to find some way to keep making money off Texas taxpayers," Perry said.

Plaintiffs are the Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Family Planning and Preventative Health Services Inc.; Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County Texas Inc.; Planned Parenthood Association of Lubbock Inc.; Planned Parenthood Association of Cameron and Willacy Counties; Family Planning Associates of San Antonio; Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Inc.; and Planned Parenthood of West Texas Inc.

They are represented by Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody P.C. of Austin, Texas.

The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8.

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