New AG rulings target Planned Parenthood

By Michael Barajas

[email protected]

This week Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville physician who has long had Planned Parenthood in his sights, got his wish.

Two opinions issued from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott this week - one in response to a request from Deuell - are likely to end any contracts the state has with Planned Parenthood clinics that give family planning and preventative care to low-income and uninsured women because the clinics are "affiliated" with those that perform abortions.

Abbott’s first opinion states that under current law, the State’s Health and Human Services Commission bars any funding to groups that either perform or promote elective abortions, or those that are “affiliates” of such clinics. The ruling is expected to ban Planned Parenthood’s Family Planning Associates clinics in San Antonio, which do not perform abortions, from receiving any funding under Texas' Women’s Health Program, an initiative that expands family planning services to Medicaid patients.

When Sen. Deuell requested an AG opinion last summer, he wasn’t shy about his intentions and insisted the 2005 law that created the program should have excluded all Planned Parenthood clinics, even ones that don't provide abortions. HHSC for years has been presented with the problem, but overlooked it out of fear that banning all Planned Parenthood clinics may be unconstitutional.

Abbott this week said there’s no constitutional problem, and in his second opinion ruled that HHSC has the authority to decide what counts as a clinic that’s “affiliated” with an abortion provider.

Stephanie Goodman, an HHSC spokeswoman, said the commission can now move forward to restrict funding to any “affiliates” of abortion providers. Asked whether HHSC would specifically do away with funding to Planned Parenthood clinics, Goodman responded, “I would expect [the commission] to rule out any provider like that that performs abortion either directly or is affiliated with a group that provides abortion.”

Goodman said Planned Parenthood clinics have received $17.6 million for services to clients with the Women's Health Program since 2007.

In 2010, the four clinics in San Antonio that participate in the program, along with clinics in Alice, Kingsville, Harlingen, Raymondville, and Brownsville, all received $1,875,035 in reimbursements for family planning and health care, serving 5,266 women, Planned Parenthood said.

Lawmakers created the WHP in 2005,  a Medicaid-waver program to provide family planning and preventative  breast and cervical cancer screenings  for thousands of poor women across the state. The same year the WHP was created, some Texas lawmakers tried to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid funding through the program, sparking a legal battle in the federal courts.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Planned Parenthood could keep its funding if it established separate entities for family planning services and abortion services, which it did.

“We have already separated, and by definition by that circuit-court ruling, we had to separate into two very distinct entities,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for The Planned Parenthood Trust of San Antonio & South Central Texas.

Gutierrez said Planned Parenthood has been the leader in enrolling women in WHP since the program began in 2007. About 40 percent of all WHP claims were from Planned Parenthood clinics in 2009, Gutierrez said.

“It’s really to the detriment of women that these senators are coming after providers,” Gutierrez said.  “Exactly how many restrictions are you going to put on providers being able to participate in the program?”

Whether or not the HHSC considers the clinics "affiliates" of abortion providers, however, could become a moot point: The U.S. House on Friday passed a proposed bill that would block all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Representatives from the organization on Friday said they do not expect the proposal to pass either the Senate or the President's desk.