AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge appointed to the bench by then-President George H.W. Bush has issued a temporary injunction halting the state of Texas from cutting the abortion and contraceptive giant Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program while its case moves forward in court.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks placed a hold on the move until Feb. 21, but is expected to issue a ruling before that time. He heard three days of testimony this week, which mostly centered around undercover videos released in 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress.
As previously reported, a video released in August 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress captured Melissa Farrell, director of research for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, discussing with undercover investigators the “diversification of the revenue stream” over dinner, along with a visit to the organization’s pathology lab, where workers sorted through the remains of aborted babies.
“If we alter our process and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, then we can make it part of the budget, that any dissections are this, and splitting the specimens into different shipments is this,” she explained. “I mean, it’s all just a matter of line items.”
Jami Snyder, associate commissioner for Medicaid, told the court during the hearing that the state has plenty of health care providers that women can utilize other than Planned Parenthood.
“What we know to be true is that a variety of providers in our network offer family planning services,” she said, noting that there are other locations women can obtain pregnancy tests or contraceptives.
Planned Parenthood had asserted in its request for an injunction that some women will lack “few or no adequate alternative providers” if the Medicaid funding is cut. There are 34 Planned Parenthood locations in the state.
“If the provider Plaintiffs are forced to stop providing care in the Medicaid program, this situation will worsen. Women and men who are unable to obtain family planning care, or encounter delays in obtaining it, can face devastating consequences, including undetected cancers and diseases,” attorneys for the organization wrote. “Delays in obtaining contraception will result in intended pregnancies, many of which may end in abortion.”
During the hearing on Thursday, Planned Parenthood brought in John Robertson of the University of Texas School of Law at Austin to testify in defense of the organization’s practices of providing the body parts of aborted babies to research organizations.
“Minor adjustments in how a physician doing the abortion will do the procedure would not rise to the level of an ethical concern unless they threaten the health or welfare of the woman involved,” he contended.
But the state pointed to Robertson’s 2011 writings, which said in part that “a woman could abort for reasons or factors revealed in prenatal tests that some persons would find trivial or frivolous, such as hair or eye color, athletic or musical prowess…”
According to the Texas Tribune, Sparks asked both sides to provide reports to him regarding the investigative videos while he considers the matter further. Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing, but the state is confident that its concerns are valid.
As previously reported, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) issued a final notice on Dec. 20 that Planned Parenthood would be defunded in 30 days. The organization had heretofore received $3.1 million in Medicaid reimbursement annually.
The Commission initially sent a letter to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in October 2015, providing the entity with a notice of termination.
“[T]here is reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices by Planned Parenthood affiliates, including you, across the state,” the letter read. “Our prima facie case of fraud is supported by related cases involving fraudulent practices identified by whistleblowers from inside the Texas Planned Parenthood network.”
It pointed to two federal lawsuits that had been settled for millions after whistleblowers came forward about false Medicaid claims that had been filed.
Without specifically mentioning the Center for Medical Progress, the Commission also referenced undercover video footage showing representatives from a Texas Planned Parenthood facility discussing its willingness to alter abortion procedures to remove deceased children whole.
“The videos indicate that you follow a policy of agreeing to procure fetal tissue even if it means altering the timing or method of an abortion. These practices violate accepted medical standards, as reflected in federal law, and are Medicaid program violations that justify termination,” it said.
Planned Parenthood sued the Texas HHSC in November 2015 in an effort to retain its participation in the Medicaid program, asserting that the termination was illegal, but the Commission did not yet cancel the contract as originally planned. Last month, the state moved forward, resulting in Planned Parenthood again filing for an injunction.