Texas Planned Parenthood asks judge to block Medicaid funding cut

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The leaders of Texas Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge on Tuesday to block the state’s bid to halt Medicaid funding for the healthcare group, which has long been targeted by Republicans for providing abortions.

Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is seen in Austin, Texas, U.S. on June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman/File Photo

Planned Parenthood has said the threatened funding cut, by terminating Planned Parenthood’s enrollment in the state-funded healthcare system for the poor, could affect nearly 11,000 patients across Texas.

It is seeking an injunction from Judge Sam Sparks in federal court in Austin to stop the cutoff, part of a protracted legal and political fight.

Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization’s funding since an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.

The defunding efforts could gain traction now that Republicans, who already control the U.S. House and Senate, are expanding their powers with this week’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Ken Lambrecht, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and a plaintiff, testified his group does not participate in fetal tissue donation for medical research.

Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing nationally, saying the videos were heavily edited and misleading.

The Medicaid cut was “unconscionable,” Lambrecht testified, adding it would make it more difficult for some of the state’s poorest people to access services his affiliate provides, such as cancer screenings and HIV testing.

Texas has said other medical facilities could provide similar services as Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received about $4.2 million in Medicaid funding during the 2015 fiscal year, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission said.

None of that money went to abortions, plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Texas and the Medicaid defunding plan have said.

Sparks said he does not see the videos as a central to the hearing, which opened Tuesday and is scheduled to run through Thursday. He called on the state to present evidence to back up its allegations that Planned Parenthood violated the law.

Texas investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos and a grand jury last January cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two people who made the videos for document fraud but the charges were later dismissed.

The state took no further criminal action against Planned Parenthood after that but has repeated its accusations that the abortion provider may have violated state law.

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million annually in federal funds across the United States, largely in reimbursements through Medicaid.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker