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Texas Planned Parenthood Awaits Funding Cutoff

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AUSTIN, Texas — Planned Parenthood said Wednesday that Texas clinics are operating like normal for now, even as state officials move to quickly freeze funding after a federal court gave Republican lawmakers a victory in their efforts to punish health providers linked to abortion services.

The court ruling allows the state to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, the largest provider in the Texas Women's Health Program, while a lawsuit over the issue moves forward. But just how fast Texas can sever funding remains unclear.

The health program provides family planning and other health services to more than 130,000 low-income women and is designed for those who might not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

At Planned Parenthood's more than 60 clinics statewide, nothing has changed yet. "But we're also letting (patients) know that we're not sure who long that will be the case," Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla said. "Because of the ruling, it's jeopardized."

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Tuesday halted an injunction that had prevented the state from cutting off funds until an October trial on Planned Parenthood's challenge to a law banning money for clinics affiliated with abortion providers. The law was passed last year by the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature.

Stephanie Goodman of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said Wednesday that authorities were consulting with state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office on the next step.

"We should be able to move quickly to enforce the law and exclude doctors and clinics associated with abortion providers," she said.

Planned Parenthood provides services such as cancer screenings – but not abortions – to about 52,000 poor Texans as part of the health program. One such patient, Rene Resendez, said the court's decision means she'll yet again have to find a new clinic where she can have annual pap smears and other wellness checkups, as well as get birth control services.

State budget cuts for all women's health clinics led to the March closure of the Planned Parenthood clinic where the 25-year-old college student used to go, so she went to another one in her native Odessa. Now she won't be able to go there anymore, either, because she's a participant of the Women's Health Program.

"I feel like the state is taking away that choice where I feel the most comfortable, and forcing me to start over at another clinic," Resendez said. "Planned Parenthood provides more services than just abortion and this boils down to women's health and ensuring that low-income people like myself can still have health care."

The state's legal battle with Planned Parenthood is just one front of a larger war over the new law. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is pulling funding from the Texas Women's Health Program after Nov. 1 because it says the law violates federal rules. The federal government had paid about $35 million for the program, with Texas paying about $5 million.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry vowed to keep the program going with just state funds, and Goodman provided The Associated Press with a letter detailing the state's plan to set aside $42 million for the program through the end of fiscal year 2013. Most of the money is set to come through cost-cutting, including $30.8 million by imposing a hiring freeze on Health and Human Services Commission administrative posts, and stepping up the state's efforts to recover Medicaid funds lost to fraud or wasteful spending.

What remains to be seen is how Texas will fund the program in subsequent years. In the letter, the commission estimates that without the program, the state and federal governments would have to pay $148 million through fiscal year 2015 in extra Medicaid costs due to rising pregnancy rates.

Goodman said the commission sent out fliers to health care providers on how to refer clients to a website or toll-free number to find clinics that are part of the Women's Health Program.

Resendez said she knows where she can find a list of qualifying providers, but she doesn't want to change clinics again. She relies on the Women's Health Program because she can't afford the $130-plus per month premium to get health insurance through her school, the University of Texas Permian Basin.

She said many of the lawmakers who approved the law last year are men who don't face the same health concerns.

"They don't have to worry about going to get pap smears or contraception services to help them decide when they want to have a family," Resendez said, "and yet they are the ones making the decision."

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Weber reported from San Antonio.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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