News Law and Policy

Planned Parenthood Patient Sues Texas, Hopes To Continue Seeing Her Chosen Provider

Andrea Grimes

In two new lawsuits in Texas, Planned Parenthood continues its fight against exclusion from providing publicly funded family planning care, arguing that Texas doesn't have the authority to keep it out of the new, state-funded Texas Women's Health Program (TWHP) or to implement the program's "poison pill" clause which would close the TWHP down entirely should a court allow Planned Parenthood back into the program.

In two new lawsuits filed yesterday in Texas, Planned Parenthood and one of its patients challenge the state’s authority to exclude the health care provider from the Texas Women’s Health Program, the state-funded replacement for the Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP). The program is slated to expire on December 31st, 2012 when its federal funding runs out. The Center for Medicaid Services has refused to continue its 90 percent match to the WHP in Texas since, earlier this year, the state excluded Planned Parenthood from providing care via the WHP because of its status as an “abortion affiliate” in the eyes of the state.

The first lawsuit has been filed by an individual Planned Parenthood client from the Rio Grande Valley, arguably the hardest hit area in Texas when it comes to access to care and where losing Planned Parenthood as a WHP provider would have devastating consequences for women there. Planned Parenthood has historically seen about half of the WHP’s hundred-thousand-plus enrollees at its clinics, while individual doctors see only a handful of patients apiece. Marcela “Marcy” Balquinta is joined as a plaintiff by a number of Planned Parenthood providers in Texas.

Balquinta is a graduate of UT-Pan American and lives paycheck-to-paycheck in McAllen, Texas, working part time as an educator on sexual violence issues. In a statement accompanying the details of her suit petitioning the state of Texas to let Planned Parenthood remain in the state-funded WHP, she said that, without Planned Parenthood and the WHP, “I would have to make tough decisions between paying for my cancer screenings and birth control, or buying groceries or gas for my car.”

From the suit:

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“Plaintiff Balquinta does not want to sever her four-year relationship with Planned Parenthood and be forced to establish a new doctor-patient relationship with someone who does not know her past medical history and does not have her medical records. Plainitff Balquinta trusts the staff at Planned Parenthood and feels that it is a familiar place where she is welcome.”

Why does the state want to force Balquinta to go elsewhere for medical care when she’s been perfectly happy with Planned Parenthood? Because it’s decided to enforce a years-old law that bars “abortion affiliates” and entities that “promote” abortion from participating either in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program or the new Texas Women’s Health Program, the latter of which was supposedly ready to launch November 1st but has been postponed while the state continues to take as much federal matching money as possible.

Abortion is a red herring issue for the WHP; no pregnant woman can be enrolled in or seek services via either the Texas Women’s Health Program or the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, and no Planned Parenthood clinic that has historically participated in the WHP provides abortions. Barring Planned Parenthood because of its “affiliation” with abortion providers is a purely political move and has two main effects: it allows conservative politicians to appear uber “pro-life” and, by university researchers’ estimates, will prevent or hinder tens of thousands of women who desire not to be pregnant from getting the reproductive health care they need. The upshot? An increase in unwanted pregnancies and especially Medicaid-funded births, at taxpayers’ expense.

In a second lawsuit filed in federal court as a kind of placeholder for future litigation while Banquita’s state suit proceeds, Planned Parenthood claims that the the Department of Health And Human Services and its fact-challenged executive director Dr. Kyle Janek have no statutory authority to exclude Planned Parenthood from the TWHP or to enforce the “poison pill” severability clause that shuts the program down should a court compel the inclusion of Planned Parenthood. 

In a conference call yesterday, Pete Schenkkan, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, said he anticipates a hearing on the state suit by the end of the year since the TWHP is scheduled to begin January 1st. Whether Texas will, at that point, have enough new providers to meet patient demand without Planned Parenthood, remains to be seen.

News Family Planning

Judge Thwarts Ohio GOP’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding

Michelle D. Anderson

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

An effort to defund Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-held legislature has come to an end.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, granting a permanent injunction on an anti-choice state law.

The court ruling will keep Richard Hodges, the Ohio Department of Health director, from enforcing HB 294.

The 2015 law, sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) and Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Butler County), would have redirected $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in Ohio.

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The law would have required the state department to keep federal funds and materials that the health department receives from being distributed to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions, or maintain affiliation with any entity that does.

Funding that would’ve been cut off from the state health department went to the Violence Against Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention acts, the Infertility Prevention Project, Minority HIV/AIDS and Infant Mortality Reduction initiatives, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program.

Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit argued that the Republican legislation violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Barrett had temporarily blocked the law after Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the lawsuit and requested a preliminary injunction. The judge had issued an opinion contending that some legislators passed the law to make it difficult for people to access abortion care, as Rewire reported.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, praised the judge’s temporary order.

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” Harvey said in a statement.

Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement that the Ohio legislature passed the anti-choice measure in an effort to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states during Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Copeland said that while the legislation made no effort to reduce the number of abortions performed, “it actively blocked critical health care for low-income women and families.”

Planned Parenthood said those services included 70,000 free STD screenings, thousands of HIV tests for at-risk community residents, and the largest infant mortality prevention program in the state.

In the 23-page court order and opinion, Barrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the law would have deterred “patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the recent ruling in Ohio makes it among the ten states where courts have blocked anti-choice laws following June’s landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

News Health Systems

Texas Anti-Choice Group Gets $1.6 Million Windfall From State

Teddy Wilson

“Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement.

A Texas anti-choice organization will receive more than $1.6 million in state funds from a reproductive health-care program designed by legislators to exclude Planned Parenthood

The Heidi Group was awarded the second largest grant ever provided for services through the Healthy Texas Women program, according to the Associated Press.

Carol Everett, the founder and CEO of the group and a prominent anti-choice activist and speaker, told the AP her organization’s contract with the state “is about filling gaps, not about ideology.”

“I did not see quality health care offered to women in rural areas,” Everett said.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that it was “inappropriate” for the state to award a contract to an organization for services that it has never performed.

“The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization, it is not a healthcare provider,” Busby said.

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State lawmakers in 2011 sought to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program, which was jointly funded through federal and state dollars. Texas launched a state-funded version in 2013, and this year lawmakers announced the Healthy Texas Women program.

Healthy Texas Women is designed help women between the ages of 18 and 44 with a household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and includes $285 million in funding and 5,000 providers across the state.

Bubsy said the contract to the Heidi Group was “especially troubling” in light of claims made by Everett in response to a recent policy requiring abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains. Everett has argued that methods of disposal of fetal remains could contaminate the water supply.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply,” Everett told an Austin Fox News affiliate.

The transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through water systems or similar means is not supported by scientific evidence.

“The state has no business contracting with an entity, or an individual, that perpetuates such absurd, inaccurate claims,” Busby said. “Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services.”

According to a previous iteration of the Heidi Group’s website, the organization worked to help “girls and women in unplanned pregnancies make positive, life-affirming choices.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune that the Heidi Group had “changed its focus.”

The Heidi Group “will now be providing women’s health and family planning services required by Healthy Texas Women, including birth control, STI screening and treatment, plus cancer screenings to women across Texas,” Black said in an email to the Tribune.

Its current site reads: “The Heidi Group exists to ensure that all Texas women have access to quality health care by coordinating services in a statewide network of full-service medical providers.”

Everett told the American-Statesman the organization will distribute the state funds to 25 clinics and physicians across the state, but she has yet to disclose which clinics or physicians will receive the funds or what its selection process will entail.

She also disputed the criticism that her opposition to abortion would affect how her organization would distribute the state funds.

“As a woman, I am never going to tell another woman what to tell to do,” Everett said. “Our goal is to find out what she wants to do. We want her to have fully informed decision on what she wants to do.”

“I want to find health care for that woman who can’t afford it. She is the one in my thoughts,” she continued.

The address listed on the Heidi Group’s award is the same as an anti-choice clinic, commonly referred to as a crisis pregnancy center, in San Antonio, the Texas Observer reported.

Life Choices Medical Clinic offers services including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and well-woman exams. However, the clinic does not provide abortion referrals or any contraception, birth control, or family planning services.

The organization’s mission is to “save the lives of unborn children, minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health, and touch each life with the love of Christ.”


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