Federal Judge Rules Texas Can't Boot Planned Parenthood From Medicaid Program

Feb 21, 2017

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Texas health officials cannot kick Planned Parenthood out of the state's Medicaid program.

State officials told Planned Parenthood last year that they were removing its women's health clinics from the program because of a highly edited video purporting to show illegal activity. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Tuesday that the state’s reasoning did not “justify disrupting the health care of some of Texas's most vulnerable individuals.”

Sparks said the state's decision to oust the clinics would likely violate a part of federal law that says Medicaid recipients in Texas should have access to medical care at their chosen providers. He issued a preliminary injunction until the case can be decided. 

The decision is "especially good for patients who are enrolled in Medicaid because it means that they get to choose to come to the provider that they trust," Sarah Wheat with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas said. 

The executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the organization’s political arm, said access to care was already an issue for many of the 11,000 Medicaid recipients Planned Parenthood serves in Texas.

“Medicaid patients are, as we know, typically low income, typically in hard to reach areas, and don’t have continuous access to health care,” Yvonne Gutierrez said. “So, impacting patients by denying access to their provider of choice is scary.”

In his ruling, Sparks – an appointee of President George H.W. Bush – said he wasn’t convinced patients would be able to “quickly and easily” find another provider if Planned Parenthood was cut off.

Joseph Potter, a researcher with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, said there are a lot of reasons it wouldn’t be easy to replace Planned Parenthood.

“The new place may ask them to get tests. They may not have the method they are using in stock,” he said. “And other things can go wrong.”

Potter, who weighed in on this when the state’s plans were first announced, said his research into clinic closures has found that these obstacles can be a serious barrier to effective birth control for many women.

“The likelihood is they are going to use less effective methods, and many of them will have unintended pregnancies,” he said.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the ruling "flies in the face of basic human decency" and that he plans to appeal. In a statement, he continued: 

"The raw, unedited footage from undercover videos exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts, as well as manipulate the timing and method of an abortion. Even the remains of the most vicious criminals are treated with respect. But the children who never had a chance at life become so-called medical waste or, alternatively, a commodity to be bartered for. No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct. We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”

In December, the Texas Office of the Inspector General sent a letter to Planned Parenthood, saying it found “numerous violations of generally accepted standards of medical practice” based on a 2015 video. The video, secretly recorded and circulated by antiabortion activists, purported to show Planned Parenthood illegally trying to sell fetal body parts. A grand jury found no criminal activity.

Officials in Texas and other states nonetheless have continued to pursue penalties against Planned Parenthood because of the highly edited tape.

Gutierrez said the judge wasn’t swayed by the tape.

“I think that the judge here has spoken in regards to the validity or credibility of those videos, of which therein lies none,” she said.