AUSTIN (CN) — Texas officials told a federal judge Wednesday they should be allowed to eliminate $4 million in Planned Parenthood’s annual Medicaid funding, though they acknowledged they have no evidence that its doctors have altered an abortion procedure to procure fetal tissue for research.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told the state’s attorneys Tuesday that they need to show whether Planned Parenthood had “a willingness” to alter abortion procedures to obtain tissue samples. But on Wednesday, Sparks said he was “interested primarily in what was done, not what was willing to be done.”
Texas Health and Human Services Inspector General Stuart Bowen, who sent Planned Parenthood a final notice on Dec. 20 last year, terminating its Medicaid funding, said he did so after watching an undercover video taken at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s Houston clinic.
The footage from an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress purports to show clinic employees negotiating to sell fetal tissue to the activists posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company. The CMP released a heavily edited version of the video, which Republicans in numerous states and Congress have used to try to kill Medicaid funding to the nonprofit.
In one video clip shown at the hearing, the Houston clinic’s research director, Melissa Farrell, says that Planned Parenthood could deviate from standard procedure to obtain the type of fetal tissue samples that might be needed for research.
“As far is this is our standard process, I’m telling you this so then we can get creative about when and where and under what conditions can we interject something that is specific to the tissue procurement needs,” Farrell said in the video.
Farrell, who testified Tuesday, said that in the video she was referring to the methods of handling tissue after an abortion, not the procedure itself.
Bowen said the film clip, released in 2015, shows “a willingness to violate the medical and ethical standards in Texas,” and indicates that Planned Parenthood doctors had a history of altering abortion procedures to procure placenta and fetal tissue to sell.
When pressed in court, however, Bowen acknowledged he had no evidence that any doctor working for Planned Parenthood had ever altered an abortion procedure to benefit research.
Bowen said that the way Planned Parenthood employees used the term “financially beneficial” in the video indicated there was a profit consideration that might motivate doctors to alter procedures. He acknowledged, however, that it is legal for healthcare providers to be reimbursed for fetal tissue to be used for research.
Ted Spears, chief medical officer of the inspector general’s office, helped Bowen decide to kill the funding, advising him on ethical medical practices.
Spears, an orthopedic surgeon with no background in obstetrics or gynecology, echoed Bowen, testifying that the video depicted a “willingness” to improperly modify a surgical procedure, but that he did not know of any Planned Parenthood doctors who had ever done so.
Spears said that so long as a patient has consented and is the primary focus during an abortion, there is nothing unethical with using the biological materials left over from the procedure for research.
Sparks said he “fully intended” to make up his mind about whether to issue a temporary injunction before the Jan. 21 deadline in Bowen’s termination notice, but still has to review 225 exhibits and eight hours of video.
Nearly 11,000 low-income Texans rely upon Planned Parenthood for family planning and basic health services.
“Our Medicaid patients come to Planned Parenthood for well-woman exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections — basic preventative healthcare,” Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas CEO Ken Lambrecht said in a statement Wednesday. “We want to fight today to make sure that women can continue coming to Planned Parenthood.”
The hearing was to continue Thursday with testimony from the state’s final witness and Planned Parenthood’s two rebuttal witnesses.