AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A federal judge Tuesday halted Texas’ plan to kill Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, finding it would violate the rights and disrupt the care of 12,500 Medicaid patients.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ preliminary injunction says the state did not present “even a scintilla of evidence” warranting the termination of Planned Parenthood clinics from the Texas Medicaid program, and that the decision to kill nearly $4 million in annual funding “had nothing to do” with the qualifications of the clinics, as the state claimed.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sent Planned Parenthood a final notice on Dec. 20 last year, terminating its Medicaid funding on the basis of heavily edited undercover video taken by members of an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress.
Funding was to be killed on Jan. 21, but after a three-day hearing in January, Sparks granted Planned Parenthood a temporary injunction blocking the defunding for a month.
During that hearing, Texas Health and Human Services Inspector General Stuart Bowen said the videos, taken at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, show that clinic employees had a “willingness” to modify an abortion procedure to procure fetal tissue for research, and a history of deviating from acceptable medical standards.
But in the 42-page injunction on Tuesday, Sparks said the video evidence was “suspect” and the health commission made no attempt to authenticate it.
Summarizing the video, “for those not blessed with eight free hours to watch it,” Sparks said, it offers at most, “confused and ambiguous” theoretical conversations about what might be possible in a research partnership between a health care provider and a fetal tissue procurement company.
“Viewing the evidence holistically, the Court concludes the Inspector General had no evidence indicating PPGC [Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast] ever altered an abortion procedure or would be willing to do so.”
Sparks accepted the arguments of Planned Parenthood officials, who said the cuts would have a “devastating” effect on thousands of low-income Texans who rely upon the clinics for family planning, basic health services, cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
“These centers are the only family planning specialists in the state and provide a wide variety of services in a manner specifically designed to be convenient for vulnerable populations,” Sparks wrote.
He was not persuaded that affected patients “would be able to quickly and easily find new providers if they were prevented from seeing their chosen provider, a harm in and of itself.”
“Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider.”
In response Tuesday, Attorney General Ken Paxton promised to continue to fight to “protect the unborn and Texas taxpayers.”
“Today’s decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency,” Paxton said in a statement.
He reiterated the state’s argument that the 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.”
“Even the remains of the most vicious criminals are treated with respect,” Paxton said. “But the children who never had a chance at life become so-called medical waste or, alternatively, a commodity to be bartered for. “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.”
Similar efforts to defund Planned Parenthood have been blocked in Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, and on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have restricted Planned Parenthood from contracting with the state.
Spark’s injunction will remain in force until further orders of the court.