Planned Parenthood notched a victory late yesterday when Travis County District Judge Amy Clark Meachum issued a temporary restraining order blocking Texas from cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood affiliates that participated in the Women's Health Program (“WHP”).
After a serious legal defeat Thursday at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals it was all but assured that Texas would expel Planned Parenthood from the WHP. The practical result was that thousands of low-income women across Texas would be denied access to women's health care. However, Planned Parenthood quickly changed tactics and sued Texas in state court – rather than federal court – arguing that Texas' move to exclude Planned Parenthood from the WHP violated Texas law.
According to the Austin-American Statesman, Judge Meachum set the case for a three-hour hearing on November 8. The Statesman also reported that it was issued after a short hearing. As a general matter, a hearing is not required for a temporary restraining order, as it is designed to be a truly temporary measure, put in place when the party requesting relief – in this case, Planned Parenthood – is threatened with immediate and irreparable injury. It is noteworthy that Judge Meachum felt this standard had been met.
As a result, at least until November 8, Planned Parenthood may remain in the WHP, thereby preserving the services it provides to low-income Texas women. Notably, however, Planned Parenthood's continued presence in the program is good news for the other providers as well. Since the eruption of the Planned Parenthood controversy, Texas had proposed instituting its own WHP, one that was not contingent on federal matching funds. Matching funds is a slight misnomer as the federal government has been underwriting approximately 90% of the cost of the program, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Should Planned Parenthood and the federal dollars disappear, it is not difficult to imagine that the WHP could also disappear.
As a procedural matter, the next step would be the November 8 hearing, when it will be decided whether a temporary injunction should be put into place until a full trial on the legality of Texas' action can be had. The current order, as a matter of law, cannot last more than 14 days, and simply preserves the status quo. If the November 8 hearing is inconclusive, the temporary restraining order could be extended for another 14 days, but only for good cause shown.