The scuffle between Texas and the feds over women's healthcare was supposed to get real tomorrow, when Planned Parenthood was scheduled to be barred from being a provider for the state's Medicaid Women's Health Program. But earlier today, Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel granted the non-profit its requested preliminary injunction against the state. That means the group will be allowed to remain part of the WHP -- at least for now.
In his ruling, Yeakel wrote that the preliminary injunction was necessary to protect the health of the women enrolled in the WHP, and he expressed little faith that the state will find a way to treat women in need, as Governor Rick Perry has speciously vowed:
"In balancing the relative harm to the parties and the court's concern for the interest of the public," he wrote, "the court is particularly influenced by the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women. ... Although the Governor has instructed that the program is to continue fully funded by Texas, the current record gives the court no comfort that funds are or will be available to continue the program after the phase out of federal funds."
Planned Parenthood's basic argument, as attorney Susan Hays explained to us, is that Texas has placed an unconstitutional limit on WHP providers by banning non-profits that have "abortion affiliates" from the program. (Hays has worked on cases for the Center For Reproductive Rights and is a former Democratic Party chairwoman.)
"The government cannot determine eligibility for a government program on a basis that infiringes on a constitutionally protected liberty," she said. "We can't say you can't get this government program because you own a gun, would be a good analogy."
Yeakel wrote in his ruling that governmental entities are allowed, up to a point, to place limits on eligibility for government-funded programs, particularly if the state has a compelling interest to protect. Many conservative politicians have argued recently that for Texas, that compelling interest is "protecting life" or "fetal viability."
But Yeakel ruled that in pursuing that interest, the state overstepped its bounds. Planned Parenthood's family-planning clinics are free to associate with Planned Parenthood's surgical centers, which perform abortions, he wrote. "By requiring Plaintiffs to certify that they do not 'promote' elective abortions and that they do not 'affiliate' with entities that perform or promote elective abortions, as defined by the rule, Texas is reaching beyond the scope of the government program and penalizing Plaintiffs for their protected conduct," he wrote.
Yeakel also wrote that Planned Parenthood provides "a critical component" of healthcare for poor women, adding, " The court is unconvinced that Texas will be able to find substitute providers for these women in the immediate future, despite its stated intention to do so."
The next hearing date for the case is May 18. This one could drag on for awhile.