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Top Texas Stories of 2012: The War Over Women’s Health

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

When state lawmakers pushed to remove Planned Parenthood from Texas’ Women’s Health Program as part of an anti-abortion agenda, some questioned whether the state could absorb the cost of the change.

We still don’t know, because at year’s end, the legal battle over whether Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood – currently the largest provider in the program– is still being fought.

In February, then-Texas Health and Human Services commissioner Tom Suehs endorsed a ruling prohibiting  "affiliates of abortion providers" – i.e., Planned Parenthood – from participating in the Texas Women’s Health Program. The move was widely expected: despite sweeping public health care cuts passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011, the women’s health care program remained, but with the provision providers like Planned Parenthood would be excluded.

The Texas Tribune wrote that:

Republican lawmakers worked overtime last legislative session to design language that would keep any Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics from receiving state family planning and women’s health dollars, despite the fact that taxpayer-funded clinics may not perform abortions. 

But the federal government had balked at Texas’ exclusion of Planned Parenthood, arguing it violated a provision in the Social Security Act stipulating that Medicaid patients can receive care from any qualified agency.

Moreover, Planned Parenthood provides nearly half of the services in the health program, including prenatal care, contraception, cancer screenings, and well-woman exams – while the health program overall leverages $9 in federal funding for every $1 in state funding spent.

With neither side backing down, Texas vowed it would make a go of it without federal assistance – a vow that requires the state to find some $30 million to fill the funding gap.

In April, the state asked for more time (and federal funds) in transitioning to a new, state-run program. Then later that month, a district judge ordered the state to temporarily cease plans to remove Planned Parenthood from the program.  That finding was bolstered by another decision a few days later upholding the same ruling, before a circuit court overturned the injunction in the summer.

The state-funded health program was slated to launch Nov. 1; just prior to then, Texas moved to “immediately” cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, which launched another round of litigation; the state announced the health program wouldn’t launch until the cases had been resolved.

Planned Parenthood had sought an injunction to stay in the program. On Nov. 8, it received a temporary injunction, which the state is appealing.

The new year should bring some clarity to the program – and whether Planned Parenthood will continue to play a role in it. But the upcoming legislative session will also crate a new battleground over abortion and women’s health: Gov. Rick Perry has signaled his support for legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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