Texas may lose federal matching funds over its Legislature’s decision to withhold Medicaid reimbursements from Planned Parenthood. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 1 lifted a lower court’s stay blocking the state from excluding Planned Parenthood from a federal program to deliver subsidized care to poor women. If the state excludes Planned Parenthood from the program, it also loses federal matching funds.
Gov. Rick Perry has said that the state will cover the lost federal money in order to continue the program. Late on April 30, the state filed an emergency request to block the stay.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote, “Absent a stay pending appeal, the State of Texas—and the women of Texas who depend on the [WHP]—will be irreparably harmed because state law prohibits Texas from continuing to operate the Texas Women’s Program [sic] if taxpayer money must be provided to entities that affiliate with abortion-promoting entities.” Planned Parenthood had until 5 p.m. on May 1 to respond in court.
Senate Bill 7 was intended to prevent any state funds from going to abortion providers or entities affiliated with abortion providers. Perry signed it into law last July. The Hyde Amendment of 1976 blocked federal funding for abortions.
The matching funds paid for cancer screenings, diabetes screenings, prenatal care, contraception, and other health care for poor women. According to a statement from Planned Parenthood, “Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women in the United States. Texas women also have the third-highest rate of cervical cancer and one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy.”
Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state. It claims that SB 7 violates the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
Austin attorney Pete Schenkkan filed the suit. He said, “Even if Texas does a 100 percent state-funded program, they don’t get to say ‘Everyone can be in this program as long as they give up their rights to free speech and freedom of association.’ They can’t say that,” quoted in a Kaiser Health News article.
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison urged the two sides to settle their dispute in an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She wrote that it was wrong for “political posturing” to make Texans pay double for a successful program.
She said $34 million is at stake. “The Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program provides basic and preventive health care services for more than 100,000 low-income Texas women each year. Last year, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported that the program is saving taxpayers tens of millions annually through the prevention of thousands of unintended pregnancies and assuring needed breast and cervical cancer screenings,” wrote Hutchison.
She said some media reports wrongly portray the dispute as being about abortion, which she has never supported. “The issue is providing for preventive health services for low-income Texas women,” according to Hutchison.
Planned Parenthood launched a petition that said in part, “Without this essential program, 130,000 Texas women-in-need will lose access to basic, lifesaving care, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, screenings for diabetes and hypertension, and STD testing and birth control.”
An advocacy group described the bill and its effects in different terms. “This will defund Planned Parenthood, stop taxpayer funding of elective abortions, and regulate adult stem cell research in Texas,” said the Texas Alliance for Life in a statement.