NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Filing a lawsuit claiming unconstitutional discrimination, Planned Parenthood is taking the State of Texas to court.
According to state law, any group that receives federal or state funds must be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions. But a new law enacted in the 2011 legislative session also bans organizations, affiliated with ones that provide abortions, from participating in the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program.
Most Planned Parenthood clinics do not perform abortions and the small percentage of clinics that do are legally separate from the larger majority. Now all Planned Parenthood clinics have been excluded from the state program that provides wellness exams and contraception to low-income women.
“So what we’re talking about is clinics who truly only provide breast and cervical exams, STD tests, HIV tests, birth control, so women can plan and space their families,” said Sarah Wheat, the co-CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capitol Region. “That’s who was targeted. That’s who’s been de-funded.”
According Wheat, two-dozen clinics have shut their doors since the new policy went into effect.
By adding the words affiliated with to the new policy state officials say they have every right to restrict associations.
“The state has looked at the law. We feel like we’re on very firm ground, that the federal law gives states the ability to set criteria for their Medicaid providers,” said Texas Health and Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman. “According to our Attorney General it’s [the law] perfectly clear and we need to go ahead and enforce it.”
Pete Schenkkan, the attorney representing the eight Planned Parenthood organizations that filed suit, says the state rule violates the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
“Because the law is clear, government, any government, cannot deny government funds to otherwise qualified participants on the grounds that they are exercising their rights of free speech or association,” declared Schenkkan, who went on to comment that, “The government can’t say ‘you’re perfectly qualified to deliver these services, as you’ve been doing for five years, but we’ve decided not to let you because we don’t want you exercising your free speech’.”
Ninety percent of funding for the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program comes from Medicaid. So, when the state began enforcing the ban the federal government started cutting funds — a move that meant some $30 million in Medicaid funds cannot be used for the program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the ‘affiliated with’ provision violates the federal law that guarantees Medicaid recipients will be able to choose care from any qualified provider willing to provide a service.
Currently the federal government is deciding whether the program should be completely de-funded.
Governor Rick Perry recently commented on the funding cuts saying, “I’m not gonna break the laws that the people of the state of Texas passed, our legislature. Even if the President of the United States says that ‘you’re gonna do it’. I’m sorry sir that’s not the way it works.”
Some 130,000 Texas women depend on the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.
Goodman said her hope is everyone works to keep the program up and running.
“What I think we’re all focused on though is, this program is a really great program. It helps provide low-income women with cancer screenings, with preventive health services, with family planning services and no one wants to see it go away,” she said. “And so, we’re hopeful that at the end of the day we’re gonna be able to come to some resolution on that issue and make sure the program stays in place.”
Governor Perry also said he would “find the money” to keep the program going and recruit more health care providers to make up for Texas women who in essence have lost basic medical coverage under the new rule.
In the lawsuit Schenkkan makes the case that even if the program becomes completely state-funded, eliminating all federal government involvement, the practice of excluding organizations associated with abortion providers is still unconstitutional.
Planned Parenthood has filed similar lawsuits in Indiana, South Carolina, Kansas and Tennessee.