By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A federal appeals court ruled late Tuesday that Texas can cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics that provide health services to low-income women before a trial over a new law that bans state money from going to organizations tied to abortion providers.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted a federal judge's temporary injunction that called for the funding to continue pending an October trial on Planned Parenthood's challenge to the law.
State officials sought to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and health services to poor women as part of the Texas Women's Health Program after the state's Republican-led Legislature passed a law banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers. No state money goes to pay for abortions.
The appeal's court decision means Texas is now free to enforce its ban on clinics affiliated with abortion providers. Planned Parenthood provides cancer screenings and other services — but not abortions — to about half of the 130,000 low-income Texas women enrolled in the program, which is designed to provide services to women who might not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
The ruling is the latest in the ongoing fight over Texas' efforts to halt funding to clinics affiliated with abortion providers. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said that the new state rule violates federal law. Federal funds paid for 90 percent, or about $35 million, of the $40 million Women's Health Program until the new rule went into effect. Federal officials are now phasing out support for the program.
Gov. Rick Perry has promised that Texas will make up for the loss of federal funds to keep the program going without Planned Parenthood's involvement. State officials have said ending the program would result in more unplanned pregnancies that would cost the state much more than self-financing the program.
In a statement, Perry called Tuesday's ruling "a win for Texas women, our rule of law and our state's priority to protect life."
"Texas will continue providing important health services for women through this program in spite of the Obama Administration's disregard for our state law and unilateral decision to defund this program," the governor said.
Perry's office referred questions about continued funding for the Women's Health Program to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which said it would move to begin enforcing the ban.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said the case "has never been about Planned Parenthood — it's about the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, birth control and well-woman exams."
"It is shocking that politics would get in the way of women receiving access to basic health care," Richards said in a statement.
The case began when Planned Parenthood sued, saying the new Texas law violated its rights to free speech. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott countered by arguing that lawmakers may decide which organizations receive state funds.
A federal judge in Austin ruled in May that the funding should continue pending the trial on Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, saying there's sufficient evidence the state's law is unconstitutional.
But the three-judge appellate panel disagreed, unanimously finding that Planned Parenthood was unlikely to prevail in future arguments that its free-speech rights were violated.
Abbott cheered the decision Tuesday, noting that it "rightfully recognized that the taxpayer-funded Women's Health Program is not required to subsidize organizations that advocate for elective abortion."
"We are encouraged by today's decision and will continue to defend the Women's Health Program in court," Abbot said in a statement.
The ruling comes as conservative groups across the nation try to pass and enforce laws to put Planned Parenthood out of business and make getting an abortion more difficult. Earlier this year the same court upheld a new Texas law requiring doctors to perform a sonogram and provide women with a detailed description of the fetus before carrying out an abortion.
Richards said the decision left Planned Parenthood "evaluating every possible option to protect women's health in Texas."