Last month, Greg Abbott announced that he would pull state Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood, which he followed up with a series of dramatic raids on Planned Parenthood clinics across the state. His actions were a politically motivated response to the smear videos released earlier this year by the “Center for Medical Progress,” which have been thoroughly debunked by people who actually know about medical progress. Abbott’s decision would prevent Medicaid patients from having Planned Parenthood services covered by the program. This could potentially leave thousands of poor women without access to basic medical care, but of course, Greg Abbott doesn’t care about that.
Thankfully, someone does — Planned Parenthood. That’s why this week, they struck back and filed suit against the state of Texas for trying to end Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood. The suit was filed by Planned Parenthood affiliates in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, and aims to keep Planned Parenthood as part of Medicaid in Texas.
As Ken Lambrecht, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Greater Texas, explained in a release:
“With so few options for care available already for Medicaid patients in Texas, making care even harder to access—for the sake of politics—demonstrates a new low for our state leaders…Today we take that fight to court, and stand with real patients to prevent politicians from denying them the right to high quality, compassionate care through Planned Parenthood health centers. For over 80 years Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas has been here for Texans who need us. We will be here for as long as we are needed, no matter what.”
Planned Parenthood’s legal argument, as explained in their press release, is that “the state of Texas’s attempts to terminate its provider agreement violates federal law because it prevents their Medicaid-enrolled patients obtaining care at their provider of choice. ” In the release, Planned Parenthood pointed to a memo from the Center for Medicaid, CHIP and Survey & Certification released in 2011, stating that: “States are not, however, permitted to exclude providers from the program solely on the basis of the range of medical services they provide.” It’s an argument Texas was well aware of — as soon as Abbott announced his plans for Planned Parenthood and Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services warned him that he was likely in violation of federal law.
Moreover, Texas isn’t first state to sue — it’s the seventh. Federal courts have blocked similar attempts to kick Planned Parenthood off of Medicaid based on the smear videos in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Utah. And federal courts also blocked even earlier attempts to remove Planned Parenthood from Medicaid in Indiana and Arizona. So Planned Parenthood’s Texas lawsuit is far from a desperate last stand, it stands on strong legal precedent.
And it is crucial that Planned Parenthood’s suit was filed now. Without it, Texas women on Medicaid could lose access to care as early as December 8 — less than two weeks from today. Planned Parenthood is requesting a temporary ruling from a judge before the December 8 deadline.
Although Texas is the seventh state where Planned Parenthood has sued, it is one of the most important. As the largest state where Planned Parenthood has filed suit, Republicans across the country are watching Texas to see if they can get away with doing the same things in their states. As Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explained (emphasis added):
“Politicians in Texas seem to have decided it’s their job to think of new and creative ways they can decimate women’s reproductive health and rights. We have seen the very real and very devastating consequences for Texas women when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood—with tens of thousands going without access to birth control, HIV tests, and cancer screenings…Texas is a cautionary tale for the whole nation —- with politicians in Arkansas, Alabama, Ohio, and Louisiana trying to do the very same thing. Taken together, these measures threaten to devastate access to critical healthcare and education across vast regions of the country —- all in the name of politics. Officials who oppose women’s health may think they can bully us out of providing care for our patients, but we will not back down, and we will not shut our doors.”
But of course, the most important thing at stake in this suit is the 13,000+ patients whose access to everything from HIV and cancer screenings to birth control to well woman visits is at risk. These Medicaid patients are living below the poverty line, and Planned Parenthood is often their only available source of medical care. To understand the full scope of what’s at stake, I encourage everyone to read my colleague Andrea Greer’s piece on what we lose if we lose Planned Parenthood in Texas. Not only does she clearly lay out the many types of health services for vulnerable Texans that will disappear if Planned Parenthood is gone, she also debunks Republicans’ favorite claim — that people can just go elsewhere to access these vital services. Turns out, most of these other providers don’t provide the level of care that Planned Parenthood does, and if they do, they are prohibitively far away from the patients that need them most.
While it is good news for Texas women that Planned Parenthood is looking out for them, it is shameful that that task had to fall to them instead of the state officials who were elected to protect Texans’ best interests. As we wait for the court’s decision this Thanksgiving week, let’s give thanks for Planned Parenthood and all they do for Texans — while also preparing for 2018, so we can elect new leadership to be thankful for as well.