Texas Republicans have been trying to figure out a way to defund Planned Parenthood since they captured both legislative bodies and the governor’s office in 2002.
Now, the efforts of Gov. Rick Perry and his anti-abortion allies to strip the organization of state funding have led to a legal tussle in federal court.
For Republican politicians in Texas, like Rep. Sid Miller, opposition to the reproductive health organization is a badge of honor.
“In the last budget, I transferred $21 million away from Planned Parenthood,” says Miller, who represents a rural Texas district southwest of Fort Worth. “We believe it’s inherently wrong to use taxpayer dollars to fund an organization that performs abortions.”
None of the dozens of clinics that will lose state funds actually perform abortions. It is already against state and federal law for clinics that perform abortions to receive taxpayer dollars.
But Texas is going a step further, with a law that eliminates funding for women’s health clinics that either associate with abortion providers or advocate for abortion rights.
Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming these new Texas rules violate the organization’s constitutional rights to free association and free speech.
Rep. Miller disagrees. “I don’t see how any of that even correlates,” he says. “We’re not stopping them from doing whatever they want to do. They’re still free to service women however they want to. We’re just saying, ‘You’re not going to do it with taxpayer dollars.’”
Texas already cut its support statewide for women’s health clinics by two-thirds in 2011, eliminating access to family planning services for nearly 300,000 poor and working-class women.
The Texas Legislative Budget Board estimates those cuts will result in roughly 20,000 additional unplanned births. Texas currently ranks first among the states in spending on teen births.
But for abortion opponents, the issue is not about money, but about keeping Planned Parenthood out of the Texas Women’s Health Program, which provides services to low-income women.
“In essence, the rule bars being Planned Parenthood and being in this program,” says Helene Krasnov, a Planned Parenthood lawyer.
“It bars it in numerous ways: Because we advocate to protect women’s access to safe and legal abortion. It bars it because we associate with entities that engage in that conduct. It bars you from having any relationship with any provider of abortion services.”
Essentially, Krasnov says, “you can’t be connected with comprehensive reproductive health care” without running afoul of the law.
Krasnov says those stipulations go too far. And, she argues, Planned Parenthood’s speech and associations have nothing to do with the quality of the health care provided at its clinics.
“The government can tell an entity what it can do with government funds,” Krasnov says. “The government can set the rule for its own programs. But it can’t disqualify you from the program based on constitutionally protected conduct that you do outside that government program.”
Last Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that Planned Parenthood’s claim — that the state of Texas is violating its constitutional rights — was likely to succeed. Yeakel issued an injunction stopping Texas’ defunding until he can schedule a trial and hear arguments.
The state has appealed, and the matter is now before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments will be heard the first week of June.