U.S. judge delays Texas plan to cut Planned Parenthood funding

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. judge issued a temporary restraining on Thursday halting Texas’ plan to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood to give him more time to consider thousands of pages of documents filed in the politically charged case, court records showed.

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

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who has been hearing testimony in a lawsuit over the plan this week, put a freeze on the funding cut until Feb. 21, according to online court filings. The cut was to take effect Jan. 21.

Sparks said in issuing the order the court needed time to consider “the mountain of evidence” in the case.

No formal estimate was given for amount of money involved, but in fiscal 2015, Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received about $4.2 million in Medicaid funding, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission said.

Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization’s funding since an anti-abortion group released videos in 2015 it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.

Republican President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Friday, has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, which draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing over the videos, which it said were heavily edited and misleading.

The group 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 as they try to access services such as HIV and cancer screenings.

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

A Texas health official told the court that other medical facilities could provide similar services to Medicaid patients as Planned Parenthood.

Sparks said in court he did not see the videos as central to the proceedings, which opened Tuesday. 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 a year ago cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two people who made the videos for document fraud, but the charges were later dismissed.

Planned Parenthood has 34 health centers in Texas, serving more than 120,000 patients, 11,000 of whom are Medicaid patients, it said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Alan Crosby