Columns

Planned Parenthood Fights Texas Move to Cut Off Medicaid

Anti-abortion activists rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, on July 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas will see its millions of dollars in Medicaid money dry up and blow away Jan. 21, unless the group’s attorneys can convince a judge that the decision to stop the flow of tax dollars is nothing but the result of a “politically driven witch hunt.”

The Planned Parenthood clinics listed as defendants in the lawsuit received $4.2 million in Medicaid funding in 2015.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission are expected to be in court Jan. 17 to argue the case before a federal judge.

However, this is more than a courtroom battle over how Medicaid money is spent. It is also a clash that could reverse Obama administration precedent that protected Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.

And it comes at a time when Planned Parenthood leaders feel like they are fighting for the organization’s survival.

The Planned Parenthood lawsuit filed Dec. 30 to block the Texas HHS Commission’s final notice that Medicaid funding would end blamed the state’s decision on “deceptively edited and misleading YouTube videos made by a radical anti-abortion group with ties to violent extremists.”

While they might take issue with phrases like “violent extremists,” nobody in Austin is arguing about whether those videos spurred the decision to cut off Medicaid funding.

Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Stuart Bowen notified Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast on Oct. 19, 2015, that Medicaid money was being cut off because “the State has determined you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable for performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner.”

And yes, Bowen also wrote in his initial letter that it was “numerous acts of misconduct captured on video” involving the procurement of fetal tissue through abortions that led to the decision to terminate Medicaid funding.

He added that Planned Parenthood is hardly the only alternative for women seeking medical care.

“There are thousands of alternate providers in Texas, including federally qualified health centers, Medicaid-qualified rural health clinics and other health care providers,” Bowen wrote. “Our women’s health programs, mostly State-funded since 2013, have increased overall funding for women’s health services and access to these services.”

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said at the time that the Medicaid-funding move was a sign that Texas had stepped forward and shown its “unyielding commitment to both protecting life and providing women’s health services.”

“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 also said in a statement.

The Texas Tribune obtained a copy of the Health and Human Services Commission’s final notice of termination that was sent to Planned Parenthood on Dec. 20.

In that letter, Bowen made no apologies for relying on the undercover videos that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood officials making deals to sell fetal tissue as the foundation of his case.

“Your misconduct is directly related to whether you are qualified to provide medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” Bowen wrote in the letter. “Your actions violate generally accepted medical standards, as reflected in state and federal law, and are Medicaid program violations that justify termination.”

Planned Parenthood could have appealed its case to the HHSC, but decided to go to federal court to ask for a preliminary injunction to block the order.

The organization saw this coming. The lawsuit was actually written more than a year ago when Planned Parenthood officials thought the Texas HHSC would pull the Medicaid funding plug as soon as December 2015.

However, they waited until getting the final notice from Bowen before pulling the trigger.

It’s obvious why Planned Parenthood decided to bypass the HHSC appeals process and go directly to federal court.

The Obama administration warned Texas officials in October 2015 that pushing Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid could be a violation of “longstanding Medicaid law.”

Of course, that was then, and this is now.

“Now” in 2017 includes President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence, who will be sworn into office three days after Planned Parenthood’s legal team makes its case for a preliminary injunction in federal court.

Trump has promised to defund Planned Parenthood. Pence, as a member of the U.S. House, introduced legislation to do that in 2007.

So it doesn’t take the analysis of a cable TV political pundit to realize why Planned Parenthood is worried.

Not coincidentally, the organization started its “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” campaign in January.

“Extreme lawmakers think Trump’s election gives them a mandate to roll back rights for women, LGBTQ folks, religious minorities, people with disabilities and people of color. They’re starting to move on discriminatory legislation before Trump has even taken office,” read a page on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund website.

“We need to send a message — loud and clear — right now. We’re stronger than they are,” it also read.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told Rolling Stone that her group knows they will have to fight to retain federal funding under the Trump administration, and promised, “We will not go without a fight.”