AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas District Judge Steve Yelenosky has issued an injunction that will keep Planned Parenthood in the Women's Health Program pending resolution of the organization's lawsuit claiming a rule banning it violates state law.
The organization had asked Yelenosky to extend a temporary order issued two weeks ago that stopped Texas from defunding clinics and doctors that have ties to groups that provide abortions. A new rule, which took effect this month, would effectively deny critical funding to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide preventive health care and contraception services to poor women, even though they do not provide abortions and are financially separate institutions.
Unless overturned on appeal, the injunction will remain in effect until a trial can decide Planned Parenthood's lawsuit. Yelenosky decided Thursday that Planned Parenthood has a reasonable chance to win its lawsuit and that allowing the rule to go into effect would cause irreparable harm to the organization.
Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office, said the state would immediately appeal Yelenosky's decision.
Planned Parenthood attorneys recently lost a federal lawsuit that hinged on a doctor's right to freedom of speech and association. The argument before Yelenosky on Thursday hinged on whether the so-called "affiliate rule" could result in the loss of federal funding for health care.
Steve McKetta, arguing for Planned Parenthood, explained that a section of Texas law clearly states that any rule that violates federal law, and therefore endangers federal matching funds, is automatically inoperable. He said lawmakers have made it clear that the state Department of Health and Human Services should do everything possible to gain federal matching funds for health programs.
The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to state officials Wednesday that said the affiliate rule violates federal law, and therefore the center was cutting off $36 million a year for the Women's Health Program on Dec. 31. McKetta said that since the affiliate rule led to the end of federal funding, it should not be enforced.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry has known since March that federal officials would cut off funding and ordered state officials to develop a new program that depended solely on state funding. That program was due to launch on Nov. 1, but Perry and Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek said they would continue to accept federal funding for as long as possible.
However, Perry did say that he would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood immediately, and Planned Parenthood won a temporary order the next day to retain funding. Janek and Perry have both said they will cut the Women's Health Program, which provides services to 110,000 poor women, if a court decided the affiliate rule is illegal and the state must fund Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions.
Perry said state lawmakers made it clear that they don't want any state funds to reach groups such as Planned Parenthood under any circumstances.
Assistant Solicitor General Kristofer Monson argued that the court should not interpret state law in a way that would interfere with the state executive branch performing its duty to write administrative rules. He also questioned whether the federal decision to cut off funding should be considered a legal ruling.
Planned Parenthood clinics provided services to 50,000 women from 40 health centers under the Women's Health Program. They presented an expert witness on reproductive health, Joseph Potter, who testified that his research shows that other doctors do not have the capacity to take for all of the poor women where Planned Parenthood operates in impoverished areas.
Janek has said his agency has signed up thousands of doctors, but his agency has not tested whether there is enough capacity to absorb all of the women who currently rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health needs.