AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Planned Parenthood asked a Texas court on Friday to order the state to continue funding the organization's preventive health care services for poor women until a trial can determine if the group's ban is legal.
Judge Gary Harger said he would issue a decision on a two-week restraining order Monday afternoon. Another hearing to head arguments on a longer injunction is scheduled for Jan. 11.
The Republican-controlled Legislature last year passed a law banning clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood from participating in state-funded programs for poor women, even if all they provide is birth control and preventive health care. The law excludes anyone who advocates for abortion rights, which Planned Parenthood does, from receiving state funds. State law already bans state funding for abortions or clinics that provide abortions.
Planned Parenthood complains that the new rule, set to take effect Jan. 1, is unconstitutional and violates existing state and federal law.
Federal authorities are cutting off Texas' funding effective Dec. 31 because they say the so-called affiliate rule violates federal law by denying a woman the right to choose her doctor. That forced the Texas Department of Health and Human Services to create a new Women's Health Program, which starts Jan. 1, solely with state funding.
Texas' ban and the federal response has triggered two federal and two state lawsuits as Planned Parenthood fights to continue treating 48,000 of the 110,000 women enrolled in the existing Women's Health Program.
Assistant Solicitor General Kristofer Monson argued Friday that since the Women's Health Program will no longer receive federal funding, it is a new beginning and the state has the right to exclude Planned Parenthood for supporting abortion rights. He said the state can require the poor women currently under Planned Parenthood's care to seek out new doctors.
"Nothing has ever given these women the right to the provider of their choice," he said.
Pete Schenkkan, representing Planned Parenthood clinics and patients, said the new program is a continuation of the old one and that Planned Parenthood should be allowed to continue caring for patients until a court decides whether the so-called affiliate rule is valid. He argued that existing statutes should prevent the state from enforcing the rule and that the organization and its patients would be harmed if the state refused to provide further funding on Jan. 1.
"Under the law that we have now, the department can't do the things they want to do," he said. He added that it was not clear that the State Department of Health Services had enough capacity to make up for the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics and doctors.
Linda Edwards Gockel, an agency spokeswoman, said the department has enrolled enough providers for the major metropolitan areas, but that a survey of the available capacity in rural and South Texas was still under way. She said more doctors are signing up for the program every day.