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Lawsuits abound in Texas over enforcement of Women's Health Program

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April 12, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Texas

AUSTIN, Texas: Yesterday, eight Planned Parenthood organizations filed suit in Austin against the state for blocking their access to federal funds, which the providers believe they are entitled to under the federal Women's Health Program. The rule currently endangering Texas Planned Parenthood's chances of survival, particularly in low-income southern regions where it is the chief provider of women's healthcare, "has nothing to do with providing medical care and is simply intended to silence individuals or groups who support abortion rights," according to the plaintiffs.[1] The Planned Parenthood groups have asked the federal court in Austin stop the state from enforcing the law before April 30, when those clinics would lose all funding.

Before the Obamacare hubbub began, Texas law required that groups receiving federal or state funding be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions. Since the reform arrived, with the promise of increased funding and latitude for administering certain oft-protested women's health services, Texas conservatives, led by Gov. Rick Perry, passed an intensified version of that existing law, with measure to preclude healthcare organizations affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the Women's Health Program. The law rendered otherwise qualified organizations, like Planned Parenthood, which does not perform abortions, ineligible for receiving federal funding. The federal government viewed the law as a violation of citizens' constitutional rights to free speech and association, and slashed $30 million earmarked annually for Texas under the Women's Health Program.[2] In response, Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott sued the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month, demanding the federal government honor the state's rights to enforce its laws and to restore its allowance.

If the Austin court does not rule in the Planned Parenthood affiliates' favor, alternate providers in south Texas' Hidalgo County alone will have to absorb 6,500 women as of May 1; Providers, according to the plaintiffs, which do not exist. The Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for the program's enforcement, has said it will try to recruit additional health care providers to make up for those lost under the new rule. The Department defends Texas' right to pass such a law and is working with the state to find federal grant money to supplement the extra state funds being directed at would-be-covered medicaid expenses. “Federal law gives states the right and responsibility to establish criteria for Medicaid providers, so we’re on firm legal ground,” said a Department representative.[1]

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