Health

GOP Governors Won’t Stop Trying To Illegally Defund Planned Parenthood

CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) delivering comments at the 43rd Annual National Right To Life Convention in 2013, back when he was the state attorney general.

Texas officials announced on Monday that the state will end Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, citing the ongoing political controversy over allegations that the women’s health organization is profiting from the sale of “aborted baby parts.”

Planned Parenthood has been under fire for months thanks to the release of several inflammatory videos that portray its fetal tissue donation program in a negative light. Last week, the group’s president announced changes to the way clinics may handle fetal tissue samples, partly in an attempt to demonstrate that Planned Parenthood isn’t concerned about profits.

Although collecting and donating aborted fetal tissue has been legal for years, abortion opponents have construed the practice as inhumane. That framing clearly comes through in the letter that Texas is delivering to Planned Parenthood to inform the group of the change in Medicaid funding.

“The State has determined that you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” inspector general Stuart Bowen writes.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who ordered health officials to review Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid contracts in the aftermath of the video campaign, praised the move. “The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” Abbott said in a statement. “Ending the Medicaid participation of Planned Parenthood affiliates in the State of Texas is another step in providing greater access to safe health care for women while protecting our most vulnerable — the unborn.”

There’s just one problem: It’s not entirely legal to defund Planned Parenthood in this way.

The latest attacks on Planned Parenthood are just the latest in a long line of efforts to undermine the women’s health organizations. For years, conservative politicians have been attempting to cut off funding from the group, which receives the biggest chunk of its taxpayer dollars from providing basic health services — like birth control consultations, STD testing, and cancer screenings — to the low-income patients enrolled in Medicaid. But courts have typically stepped in to prevent that outcome, arguing that the Medicaid program cannot legally bar qualified health providers like Planned Parenthood from providing care to patients.

Back in August, when the national outrage over the Planned Parenthood videos started heating up, the Obama administration reminded states of this legal precedent. Federal officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — told state lawmakers that they may not cut the group’s Medicaid funding simply because it provides abortions. CMS officials pointed to a 2011 memo that lays out the federal requirements in this area.

It’s unclear if Planned Parenthood will file suit in an attempt to block Texas from following through with its proposed Medicaid changes. But similar legal battles are playing out in other states.

Last week, a judge issued a restraining order preventing Utah from cutting off Planned Parenthood’s state funding. And just today, a judge ruled that Louisiana must continue providing Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood for at least the next two weeks while a lawsuit against the state proceeds. Republican leaders in both Utah and Louisiana also pointed to the recent videos to justify their decisions to move to end funding.

Texas has already taken great steps to defund the national women’s health organization. In order to get around federal regulations that prohibit discrimination against qualified health providers, state lawmakers created an entirely new family planning network in 2013 — called the Women’s Health Program — with the specific goal of keeping out Planned Parenthood.

The consequences have been disastrous. Clinics have been shuttered, women have been forced to find new doctors, and more than half of women say they’ve faced at least one barrier to getting the reproductive health services they need. Family planning experts now point to Texas as a model of what can happen when states dismantle their family planning safety net.

“What’s happening today in Texas should be a national scandal,” Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “It is completely outrageous that Texas officials are using thoroughly discredited, fraudulent videos to cut women off from preventive health care, including cancer screenings, HIV testing, and birth control.”