News Health Systems

Texas Promises To Shut Down Women’s Health Program Altogether If Compelled To Include Planned Parenthood

Andrea Grimes

Texas's top public health official announced yesterday that if it is compelled by the courts to include Planned Parenthood in the Women's Health Program, it will simply shut the health program down entirely.

As Texas prepares to launch its new state-funded Women’s Health Program on November 1st, the state’s top public health official announced yesterday that the Health and Human Services Commission has officially adopted rules banning abortion “affiliates” from participating in the WHP. The rules are intended to ban Planned Parenthood from participating in the program, despite the fact that the health care provider has historically provided care to more than half of the WHP’s enrollees in years past, and despite the fact that the program itself deals not at all with safe abortion care and is explicitly directed at women who are not, and do not want to be, pregnant.

HHSC Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek told reporters on Thursday that he was “confident” the state could find providers to fill the gap left by the exclusion of Planned Parenthood, but that he couldn’tguarantee” that would happen on November 1st.

What Janek can guarantee is that the state will shut down the WHP entirely if the Planned Parenthood ban is found to be against the law, effectively holding hostage the care of the 115,000 Texans who rely on the WHP for pap smears and contraceptives. The adopted rules include a “poison pill” clause that would immediately shut down the Texas program if judges rule in favor of Planned Parenthood in their pending lawsuit against the state claiming the exclusion is unconstitutional.

“If the courts say you have to include Planned Parenthood, then yes, it goes away,” Janek told reporters.

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CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Ken Lambrecht denounced the decision in a statement released Thursday, calling it “shocking” that the state would “rather end low-income women’s access to family planning and preventative health services altogether than allow Planned Parenthood to provide these vital health services to women who choose to come to Planned Parenthood for care.”

The affiliate ban comes despite pleas from health care professionals, university researchers, WHP enrollees and Planned Parenthood supporters who gave impassioned statements to the HHSC in a September meeting asking the department not to exclude abortion affiliates from the program. The HHSC did, however, make a concession to those who worried that language in the rules banning the “promotion” of abortion would prevent doctors from discussing the procedure at all with their patients.

“What we wanted was to allow for the one-on-one, private, non-directive counseling between a physician and her patient,” Janek said, acknowledging that the original language was “a bit of a gag rule.” Doctors will be allowed to provide information to patients about abortion providers, but can do little else.

Last month, the president of the Texas Medical Association, Dr. Michael Speer, asked HHSC not to “gag doctors” in a statement that said the rules would force them to choose between practicing good medicine or following “a rule created to serve a political ideology.” Though he has not yet had an opportunity to review the entirety of the new rules, Speer told Rewire in a statement Friday that “physicians are encouraged” by the changes, because “it is very important that patients are able to trust that their doctor is giving the best medical advice for them—based on their medical needs and nothing else.”

In a 43-page document detailing the HHSC’s response to comments received on the affiliate rule—the vast majority of which asked the department not to adopt the rules—the HHSC appears confident that it can find a sufficient number of providers to address the needs of all 115,000 Texans in the program, though both George Washington University’s analysis and Rewire‘s own investigation have found evidence to the contrary.

In the document, DSHS acknowledges that “some women”—that’s the around 50,000 Texans who currently go to Planned Parenthood, more than half of the program’s enrollees—will have to switch providers, but that “women will find a new provider within a reasonable distance and geographic range” and that it cannot be asked to “estimate the indirect costs to the state of under-utilization of a state program” that would come from an increase in taxpayer-funded Medicaid births. GWU’s study, released last week, predicts that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from the WHP will result in a “substantial increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies in Texas,” achieving precisely the opposite of the WHP’s stated goal, which is to help women who don’t want to be pregnant stay that way.

Texas Women’s Health Program Abortion Affiliate Rules

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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