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New Rules For Texas Women’s Health Program

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AUSTIN (AP) - The Texas health and human services commissioner released new rules Thursday for the Women’s Health Program that ban relationships with abortion providers.

And if a court should require the state to include health care providers tied to groups like Planned Parenthood, the new rules require the commission to shut down the program entirely.

Dr. Kyle Janek, recently appointed commissioner by Gov. Rick Perry, said the agency created the new rules to reflect the intent of the Legislature. But he was not aware that the Texas Senate had cut out a similar “poison pill” rule when it renewed the program last year.

Planned Parenthood clinics that do not perform abortions have a case pending in federal court challenging the law banning them from the program, arguing that the rule violates their doctor’s freedom of speech and freedom of association. Until this year, Planned Parenthood clinics that do not perform abortions provided care for 44 percent of the women in the program.

“If they prevail in the court, and in that case, the court says you have to include Planned Parenthood, then yes it goes away,” he said.

Planned Parenthood said the new rules will force 48,000 women to look for health care elsewhere.

“Once and for all, we implore Texas to put politics aside and put women’s health first,” said Kenneth Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “It is shocking that state officials would rather end low-income women’s access to family planning and preventive health services altogether than allow Planned Parenthood to provide these vital health services.”

The program was originally set up under the federal Medicaid program to provide preventive health care and contraception to 115,000 poor women who were not pregnant, thereby saving the state money. State lawmakers, though, decided that they didn’t want any group with any connection to abortion providers to receive state funds. Sharing a common name, such as Planned Parenthood, disqualified clinics that otherwise do not provide abortions.

Federal officials determined this policy violated a woman’s right to pick a qualified doctor and cut $40 million in federal funding for Texas’ program. In response, Perry ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a program that relied solely on state funds. The rules released Thursday govern the state program that replaces the old program on Nov. 1.

Janek said Thursday that the state has not signed up enough new doctors to make up for the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics, but he said now that his agency has published the rules, officials will work hard to sign up enough new clinics.

“We’ve got to get out there and in the telephonic sense pound the pavement and contact providers and say … we’d like you to participate,” he said.

One of the requests doctors made during the rulemaking process was that they be allowed to speak freely with their patients. Janek said the revised rules allow doctors to talk to patients about abortion, but only in a way that informs them of their options, and only if the doctor does nothing to actively assist the woman in obtaining one.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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