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Judge permits Texas’ Medicaid ban of Planned Parenthood

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AUSTIN, Texas (BP) – Texas has won the latest legal battle in its lengthy effort to remove abortion giant Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program.

In a Wednesday (March 10) ruling, State District Judge Lora Livingston rejected Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction to block enforcement of the state’s decision to terminate its Medicaid contract with the organization. Livingston’s denial came about five weeks after another district judge in Travis County granted a temporary restraining order that kept Planned Parenthood in the program.

Southern Baptist leaders expressed gratitude for Livingston’s order.

“This is a welcome ruling that stops Planned Parenthood’s attempt to take taxpayer money meant for health care and use it instead for the life-ending practices of the abortion industry,” said Chelsea Sobolik, a policy director with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Abortion is not health care, and now the state of Texas will be able to move forward protecting taxpayer dollars from the exploitation of vulnerable women and families.”

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas C0nvention, said he applauds the court ruling and prays “that it stands.”

“Although abortion is not the only thing Planned Parenthood does, I believe they would close down if they could not do elective abortions,” Richard said in written comments. “For that reason, Planned Parenthood is an opponent of all pro-life people.”

In her order, Livingston said Planned Parenthood did not demonstrate the state failed to give appropriate, lawful notice in its 30-day termination letter Jan. 4, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The state had countered Planned Parenthood’s arguments by saying a notice of termination it issued in 2016 adhered to Texas laws and Medicaid rules, according to the newspaper. Planned Parenthood serves about 8,000 low-income Texans as part of Medicaid, the federal and state program that helps cover medical costs for low-income Americans.

Texas sent the latest termination letter after a federal appeals court ruled in late November that Texas has the right to find that Planned Parenthood affiliates are unqualified to participate in Medicaid. The full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled by 11-5 in favor of Texas, as well as Louisiana, which has a similar ban.

Planned Parenthood originally challenged Texas’ action in federal court, which is where arguments about possible violations of notice requirements must be argued, Livingston said, according to the American-Statesman.

“This decision is not made lightly,” she wrote, the newspaper reported. “In the light of the ongoing public health crisis, the risks of the individual losing health care and medical attention [require] increased attention and scrutiny.“

The latest annual report by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) showed its centers performed nearly 355,000 abortions during the 2019-20 statistical year. PPFA and its affiliates received $618.1 million in government reimbursements and grants during its latest fiscal year. Both totals are records. Most of Planned Parenthood’s government funding comes in Medicaid reimbursements, according to the organization.

Alexis McGill Johnson, PPFA’s president, said on Twitter that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “continues to put his politics before the people he was elected to serve. Your income level & zip code shouldn’t determine whether you can access life-saving health care.”

While Medicaid funds are not permitted to pay for abortions, pro-life advocates contend the money Planned Parenthood receives in the program for other services is interchangeable with other funding.

Livingston’s order is the latest development in a battle of more than five years regarding Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood in Texas and in the ongoing fight in many states over government funding of the country’s No. 1 abortion provider.

Texas terminated its contract with Planned Parenthood after undercover videos released beginning in 2015 appeared to indicate the organization was trading in body parts from aborted babies and had altered abortion procedures to harvest parts. A federal judge blocked enforcement of Texas’ action in 2017, a ruling that kept Planned Parenthood in the Medicaid program.

State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble issued a temporary restraining order Feb. 3 that prevented state removal of Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program. The decision came on the same day state Medicaid reimbursements for the organization were to expire.

In its November 2020 opinion, the Fifth Circuit Court said individuals could not challenge Texas’ decision that Planned Parenthood affiliates are unqualified providers under Medicaid rules. Medicaid recipients have a right “to receive services from a provider whom the State has determined is ‘qualified,’ but beneficiaries have no right under the statute to challenge a State’s determination that a provider is unqualified,” Judge Priscilla Owen wrote for the majority.

Federal appeals courts have divided over the right of states to withhold Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood. Two circuit courts have ruled in favor of states, while five have ruled against them, according to Texas Right to Life. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely have the opportunity to rule on the issue.

Messengers to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention meeting adopted a resolution calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood at all levels of government and denouncing the organization’s “immoral agenda and practices.”