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Texas judge OKs ban on Planned Parenthood reimbursements forbasic health care

| Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 4:58 p.m.

AUSTIN — Texas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood's family planning programs for poor women, a state judge ruled on Monday.

Judge Gary Harger said that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding if they advocate for abortion rights.

The state has long banned the use of state funds for abortion, but continued to reimburse Planned Parenthood clinics for providing basic health care to poor women through the state's Women's Health Program. The program provides check-ups and birth control to 110,000 poor women a year, and Planned Parenthood clinics were treating 48,000 of them.

Planned Parenthood's lawsuit to stop the rule will go forward, but the judge decided on Monday that the ban may go into effect for now. In seeking a temporary restraining order, Planned Parenthood's patients could have continued to visit their current doctors until a final decision was made.

“We are pleased the court rejected Planned Parenthood's latest attempt to skirt state law,” said Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's office. “The Texas Attorney General's office will continue to defend the Texas Legislature's decision to prohibit abortion providers and their affiliates from receiving taxpayer dollars through the Women's Health Program.”

Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said he brought the lawsuit on behalf of poor women who depend on its clinics.

“It is shocking that once again Texas officials are letting politics jeopardize health care access for women,” Lambrecht said. “Our doors remain open today and always to Texas women in need. We only wish Texas politicians shared this commitment to Texas women, their health and their well-being.”

Planned Parenthood has filed three lawsuits over Texas' so-called “affiliate rule,” arguing it violates the constitutional rights of doctors and patients and contradicts state law.

Republican lawmakers who passed the affiliate rule last year argued that Texas is an anti-abortion state and therefore should cut off funds to groups that support abortion rights. Gov. Rick Perry, who vehemently opposes abortion, has pledged to do everything legally possible to shut down Planned Parenthood in Texas and welcomed the court's ruling.

“Today's ruling finally clears the way for thousands of low-income Texas women to access much-needed care, while at the same time respecting the values and laws of our state,” Perry said.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has spent the last nine months preparing to implement the affiliate rule. But federal officials warned it violated the Social Security Act and cut off federal funds for the Women's Health Program, prompting the commission to start a program using only state money.

State officials have scrambled to sign up doctors and clinics to replace Planned Parenthood. On Friday, HHSC officials acknowledged they are unsure whether the new doctors can pick up Planned Parenthood's caseload in all parts of the state.

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