By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Planned Parenthood and 10 of its patients sued the state of Texas on Monday to block officials from cutting off Medicaid funds, calling the state’s actions “political” and part of a long-term pattern of denying reproductive health care to women.
“Women in Texas today have fewer rights than they did when I was growing up, and less access to health care,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards told reporters when announcing the lawsuit. “This time, they’re targeting some of the most vulnerable Texans — women who already have the least access to health care in the country.”
Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott announced in October that state health officials were kicking Planned Parenthood and its affiliates out of the Medicaid program, which pays for procedures such as cancer screenings, birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
In a statement at the time, Abbott said the state was acting in response to a series of anti-abortion videos, which accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood denies the allegations, and more than half a dozen state investigations have cleared the organization of wrongdoing.
“The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas, and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” Abbott said at the time. “As such, ending the Medicaid participation of Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state of Texas is another step in providing greater access to safe health care for women while protecting our most vulnerable — the unborn.”
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office declined to comment Monday, saying officials have yet to be served with the lawsuit.
Planned Parenthood has been fighting attempts to defund it in statehouses across the country since the Center for Medical Progress released a series of heavily edited, much-disputed videos over the summer attacking the women’s health care provider.
Texas is the fourth state — after Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana — to try to stop federal Medicaid money from being used to reimburse Planned Parenthood. The money does not pay for abortions but rather preventive measures and other health care services. Federal law prohibits using federal funds for most abortions, with narrow exceptions such as to save a mother’s life.
Federal courts have issued temporary injunctions stopping Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana from cutting off Medicaid funding while litigation advances. Planned Parenthood is asking for the same protection in Texas. Otherwise, funding cuts in the Lone Star State could go into effect as soon as Dec. 8.
Jennifer Sandman, Planned Parenthood’s deputy director of litigation, said Monday that “federal law is very clear that there is a statutory right as part of the federal Medicaid program for patients to choose their own provider, so long as it is a qualified provider.”
Texas’ efforts — and actions by the other three states — violate a patient’s right to choose, Sandman said.
Elected officials in other states, including Utah, New Hampshire and Ohio, have launched efforts to block state funds and non-Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood.
The 2015 wave of defunding efforts comes on top of ongoing state measures that aim to restrict abortion providers, including regulations that would require doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. On Monday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court already has accepted a similar case and is expected to rule on that requirement next year.
Other state measures would force clinics to have the same equipment as outpatient surgery centers even if they only prescribe abortion drugs for so-called medical abortions, and would require doctors to tell patients that such medical abortions can be reversed, even though medical authorities dispute that assertion.
Photo: Activists hold signs as they rally in support of Planned Parenthood on “National Pink Out Day” on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles, California September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni