AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Planned Parenthood's latest attempt to rejoin a taxpayer-funded Texas health program rested Friday with a judge who said he hoped to rule by the end of the day on whether the state can ban health care providers that support abortion rights.
State District Judge Steve Yelenosky said he was hoping to decide quickly whether to grant Planned Parenthood an injunction that would reinstate it as Texas Women's Health Program provider. The program provides free wellness exams and contraceptives to more than 110,000 eligible low-income women in state.
The program recently cut ties with providers that support abortion rights, including Planned Parenthood, which offers abortion services at some of its U.S. clinics but not at any of the Texas clinics that were participating in the Women's Health Program.
Patricio Gonzales, chief executive over four Planned Parenthood clinics along the Texas-Mexico border, testified that returning to the program is crucial because 50 percent of his budget comes from state reimbursements. Unless other funding is obtained, Gonzales said, only one of his clinics will remain open come April.
Planned Parenthood was officially booted from the program Jan. 1.
"We have been able to refer some of them to other providers," Gonzales said. "Other clients have been very upset. Some of them have stayed and paid a full fee."
The state's exclusion of providers that support abortion rights the so-called "affiliate ban rule" was passed by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature in 2011 and has been mired in multiple lawsuits since. Whichever way Yelenosky rules won't settle the matter, since appeals are guaranteed.
From the start, Planned Parenthood has argued that it is uniquely essential to the program because its clinics in 2012 provided services to nearly half of all Texas women enrolled in the program. State health officials, however, say they've recruited more new providers than ever and that former Planned Parenthood patients will easily be able to find the same services elsewhere.
Prosecutors said Friday there are more than 1,500 new providers in the program.
Joseph Potter, a University of Texas sociology professor studying the impact of changes to the program, testified for Planned Parenthood that finding a new clinic or getting there isn't easy for low-income patients who are less likely to have a car or money for transportation.