Federal Judge Blocks Texas from Defunding Planned Parenthood

The fake IDs the anti-abortion activists used.
The fake IDs the anti-abortion activists used. Exhibit from civil lawsuit
The fake IDs the anti-abortion activists used. - EXHIBIT FROM CIVIL LAWSUIT
The fake IDs the anti-abortion activists used.
Exhibit from civil lawsuit
Texas will not be allowed to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks enjoined the state from defunding Planned Parenthood Tuesday evening, saying the state had not presented "even a scintilla of evidence" that Planned Parenthood had violated any medical or ethical standards that would disqualify the health care provider from receiving funding.

The state's argument for ousting Planned Parenthood depended almost exclusively on debunked "sting videos" produced by the anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress in 2015. Using these videos, Texas attempted to prove that Planned Parenthood was profiting off the sale of fetal tissue and even altering abortion procedures to get the tissue.

Two anti-abortion activists from CMP had used fake names and fake IDs to enter Planned Parenthood's Gulf Coast location — then proceeded to deceive a research director into believing they were there to discuss a research partnership in procuring fetal tissue. It is not illegal to donate fetal tissue for research — yet the videos had been taken out of context to appear as though Planned Parenthood was selling the tissue.

Sparks compared Texas's efforts to use these misleading videos against a legitimate women's health care organization to villains trying to take over the world.

"A secretly recorded video, fake names, a grand jury indictment, congressional investigations — these are the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program," he wrote. "Yet, rather than a villain plotting to take over the world, the subject of this case is the State of Texas's efforts to expel a group of health care providers from a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources."

As Judge Sparks noted in the lawsuit, the last time Planned Parenthood even dabbled in fetal tissue donation was in 2011, in a partnership with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, involving first-trimester placental tissue. Planned Parenthood did not profit from the partnership, but was only reimbursed for storage and shipping expenses.

This was the conclusion of every agency that investigated Planned Parenthood. The Harris County District Attorney's Office, in fact, under the leadership of former Republican district attorney Devon Anderson, indicted the two anti-abortion activists for using fake IDs and — most ironically — soliciting the sale of fetal tissue. To make the whole incident more dramatic, the DA's office dropped the charges on rare technicalities that had nothing to do with the merits of the cases, and was accused of trying to save itself from Republican political blowback in the upcoming election.

Yet nevertheless, the inspector general of the Texas Health and Human Services concluded on its own that, based on the videos, Planned Parenthood should be defunded. (The office actually admitted that, at the time it issued its initial notice of termination, it hadn't actually viewed the eight-hour video). Not only did the inspector general, who is a lawyer with no medical experience, decided that Planned Parenthood violated medical standards based on the work of two disingenuous politically motivated activists, but also with the help of the office's chief medical officer — an orthopedic surgeon who works in sports medicine, with no experience in obstetrics and gynecology.

"Therefore, to summarize, the Inspector General relied on an unauthenticated video and the advice of an orthopedic surgeon to conclude PPGC violated medical and ethical standards related to abortion procedures," Sparks wrote.

Sparks noted that while the state claimed it was trying to "protect patients" by shuttering 30 Planned Parenthood health centers across the state, Sparks cut through the noise, noting that the state's ill-advised actions would cause roughly 12,500 Medicaid patients receiving services from Planned Parenthood to go without healthcare.

"After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus HHSC, likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause. Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider. The deprivation of that right is an irreparable injury in and of itself."

Despite Sparks's scathing evaluation of the case, Attorney General Ken Paxton still released a misleading statement Tuesday that still accused Planned Parenthood of selling "fetal body parts."

“Today’s decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency. The raw, unedited footage from undercover videos exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts, as well as manipulate the timing and method of an abortion. ... No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct."

As Judge Sparks noted: Anyone "blessed with eight free hours" to view the footage would find that most of it is filled with vague conversations between the fake fetal tissue procurement representatives and the research director, which, "even in the light most favorable to the Inspector General, the Court sees nothing more than confused and ambiguous dialogue, open to interpretation."

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn