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Texas GOP Lawmakers Back State Against Planned Parenthood Lawsuit

Jeanine Pirro in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) last week filed an amicus brief in defense of the state in a lawsuit over its decision to defund Planned Parenthood by disqualifying the organization from Texas’ list of qualified Medicaid providers.

State officials initiated the disqualification process in 2015 after anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress released a controversial video appearing to show employees from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast discussing agreements to traffic aborted fetal body parts for medical research. Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations, claiming that the edited video is misleading.

Planned Parenthood sued Texas in 2016, which resulted in a federal judge temporarily blocking state health officials from denying Medicaid funding. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote in his February ruling that such action “would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain healthcare from their chosen qualified provider.”

Cruz in a statement on the case, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Family Planning and Preventative Health Services, Inc. v. Smith, accused the organization of “gross misconduct,” while describing Texas health officials’ decision as “the only responsible course of action.”

“These measures were sensible, within Texas’ sovereign and statutory authority, and necessary to protect Texans from the organization’s dangerous practices,” Cruz said. “In filing this brief along with Rep. Olson, we are taking a strong stand in defense of the unborn while defending the rights of the state of Texas to decide how to allocate its precious resources.”

Olson added in his own statement that Texans should have every right to decide how their tax dollars are spent, nothing that many in the state object to state finances being spent on abortions.

“The undercover work that shed a light on the allegations harvesting of unborn baby tissue and organs for profit only strengthens our objections to Planned Parenthood receiving tax dollars,” Olson said.

Melissa Flores, board vice president for Fund Texas Choice, argued in an interview on Thursday that abortion itself is healthcare. Her group believes that bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right and Texans should be able to decide whether and when to have children.

Fund Texas Choice is a nonprofit organization that transports women to abortion clinics and provides other services. The group was formed in response to passage of Texas House Bill 2, which between 2013 and 2014 shuttered nearly three-quarters of about 40 clinics in Texas. The clinics served mostly rural and impoverished communities, which Flores said have been disproportionately impacted by recent decisions from Texas lawmakers. Fund Texas Choice has transported women to states like New Mexico and Colorado for abortion procedures.

Flores argued that what gets lost in the abortion discussion is that reproductive healthcare encompasses much more than just abortions.

“This is about access to all different types of healthcare services that Planned Parenthood offers, including preventive care and family planning,” she said. “Restricting access to any of these services hinders an individual’s ability to determine their own destiny or to participate in society in the ways in which they choose because they cannot exercise meaningful bodily autonomy.”

Flores’ comments came two days after Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law HB-214, a piece of state legislation that limits insurance coverage for abortions by prohibiting insurers from requiring customers to pay for elective abortions through their insurance plans.

“As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Abbott said in a statement.

Flores argued Thursday that Texas is far more purple than the state legislature would have people believe, claiming that Republicans are more conservative than the districts they represent.

“Stories about Texas sometimes fail to mention that the state legislature continues to pass laws and regulations that are unconstitutional on their face, and therefore subject to challenges that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” she said.

She cited Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt as an example. The Supreme Court ruled in June 2016 that House Bill 2 violated the Constitution by placing an unjustified burden on abortion access. Flores noted that the case cost Texas taxpayers more than $1 million.