DALLAS/NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Texas on Monday barred Planned Parenthood from receiving state Medicaid money, the latest setback for the women’s healthcare provider since it became embroiled in controversy over undercover videos about its handling of fetal tissue.
Hours earlier in neighboring Louisiana, a federal judge blocked that state’s efforts to cut the group’s funding.
In a letter to Planned Parenthood clinics statewide, Texas health officials said all funding from Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor, was being cut because of what it characterized as program violations captured on the videos.
“The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement.
Planned Parenthood vowed to fight back, though it did not say whether it would mount a legal challenge.
Abbott is one of several Republican governors who have moved to strip the organization’s government funding since an anti-abortion group released the secretly recorded videos last summer about how Planned Parenthood handles the tissue of aborted fetuses used for medical research.
The group, the Center for Medical Progress, said the videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue. The reproductive health organization has said the videos were deceptive, denied any wrongdoing and challenged the funding cuts by Republican-controlled states as politically motivated.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, had also severed Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding.
But late on Sunday, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles signed a temporary restraining order requiring the state to continue providing Medicaid funding to the group’s clinics for the next two weeks as the legal fight over the payments continues.
In a 59-page ruling, deGravelles found that Planned Parenthood would likely be able to prove that attempts to end its funding in Louisiana were unrelated to its competence.
“In fact, the uncontradicted evidence in the record at this time is that (Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast) does not perform abortions in Louisiana, is not involved in the sale of fetal tissue and none of the conduct in question occurred at the PPGC’s two Louisiana facilities,” the judge said in his ruling.
Planned Parenthood said the defunding effort targeted medical services, including cancer screenings and other preventive healthcare, that it provides to more than 5,200 low-income patients at clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Planned Parenthood applauded the ruling in Louisiana, while calling Texas’ move to end funding “a national scandal.”
A spokeswoman for the organization would not say whether it would challenge Texas in federal court. In addition to its case in Louisiana, Planned Parenthood has filed lawsuits against similar moves in Utah, Arkansas and Alabama.
“We will fight back against this outrageous, malicious, political attack in Texas with everything we’ve got, and we will protect women’s access to the health care they need and deserve,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said the administration would appeal the judge’s decision in Louisiana.
“Planned Parenthood is engaging in classic misdirection regarding the millions they have repaid in Medicaid fraud and their own admissions in the baby parts trafficking videos,” Reed said in a statement. “Instead of going through the same administrative review as any other Medicaid provider, they are running to the federal courts and asking for special treatment.”
The Planned Parenthood controversy has played out on the national level as well as in the states. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have tried to strip the organization of its federal funding and even threatened a government shutdown over the issue.
Jindal and other Republican presidential candidates, notably former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, have generally called for defunding Planned Parenthood, while Democratic hopefuls have expressed support for the organization.
Planned Parenthood announced earlier this month that it would no longer accept reimbursement for fetal tissue donated for research following abortions.
Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins