Hearing begins over move to oust Planned Parenthood funding in Medicaid

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Planned Parenthood is set to be removed on Saturday due to state officials defunding Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Update (Jan. 19, 7:31 p.m.):

On Thursday a federal judge allowed Planned Parenthood to stay in Texas’ Medicaid program till Feb. 21, according to the Texas Tribune.

Planned Parenthood was set to be removed this Saturday from Medicaid, but U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said the 2015 video of Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue donations is not enough evidence to remove the health service that soon.

Planned Parenthood argues the video was edited so anti-abortion rights activists could claim the health service profited from fetal tissue donations, and Sparks said the health service and Texas lawyers must examine the video again and provide evidence that it was or was not modified on Jan. 30, according to the Tribune.

On Thursday, the last of three days of hearings, Medicaid and CHIP Services associate commissioner, Jami Snyder, said Medicaid’s broad network covers the cost of other women’s health providers women can go to should Planned Parenthood be removed.

According to the Tribune, Snyder could not defend that other providers were more accessible than Planned Parenthood, and was unaware of an uptick in maternal deaths in Texas.

John A. Robertson, who holds the Vinson and Elkins chair at the UT School of Law, testified for Planned Parenthood, saying a provider donating fetal tissue for research is ethical so long as it does not harm the woman for whom an abortion is performed, according to the Tribune.

“Minor adjustments in how a physician doing the abortion will do the procedure would not rise to the level of an ethical concern unless they threaten the health or welfare of the woman involved,” Robertson said during his testimony.

According to the Tribune, Texas lawyers refuted that Robertson’s testimony was biased because in a scholarly article he said women have the right to an abortion “even if the tests reveal information that some persons might regard as weak, trivial, or unimportant reasons … such as hair or eye color, a gene disposed to musical or athletic ability…”

Original story:

A federal judge heard arguments over Texas’ plan to kick Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

State officials gave final legal notice to defund Planned Parenthood from Medicaid in December, and Planned Parenthood is set to be removed on Saturday. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks will hear three days worth of testimonies over whether Texas can legally oust the health service that serves about 11,000 low-income Texans annually, according to the Statesman.

Congressional GOP lawmakers want to defund the health service nationally, and Texas Republicans and Gov. Greg Abbott have planned to cut public taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood since 2015.

Republicans were prompted to action after  a video surfaced in August of a Houston clinic’s employees discussing fetal tissue donations with anti-abortion rights activists pretending to be employees of a tissue procurement company. 

Yesterday, Sparks said Texas lawyers using the video lacked proof that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue, according to the Statesman. Final charges against the activists for tampering with government records to change their identities were dropped in July.

Planned Parenthood provides services including contraception, STD testing and cancer screenings. According to the Dallas Morning News, only five out of 39 state clinics perform abortions.

Sarah Wheat, chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capitol Region, said the move to defund the health service cuts off access to its other services besides abortions, according to KXAN.

“Here in Texas, we’ve been providing healthcare for more than 80 years and we’re not going anywhere,” Wheat told KXAN. “What they’re actually doing is blocking funding that pays for cervical cancer screeenings, HIV tests, clinical breast exams, birth control and other well services for low-income women in Texas.”

In July, Texas’ Health and Services Commission proposed rules requiring abortion providers bury or cremate fetal remains, a rule temporarily blocked by a federal judge in December. The case to hear if the rules can be carried out began earlier this month.