Appeals Court Orders Judge to Reconsider State Denial of Planned Parenthood

A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered a Texas judge to reconsider his order rejecting a Texas attempt to deny Medicaid funding to the abortion provider Planned Parenthood over a controversial undercover video, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The state acted after an anti abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress recorded an undercover video in the offices of the Houston chapter of Planned Parenthood.  The video appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials agreeing with an activist who claimed to be a person interested in purchasing the tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research, which would be a violation of the law.

Planned Parenthood argued that the video was 'deceptively edited,' and no other investigator was able to find any evidence of attempts by the Houston chapter of Planned Parenthood to sell fetal tissue.

At one point two anti abortion activists were criminally charged in Houston for trafficking in fetal tissue because of the claims made in the video, charges which were later dropped.

But the anti abortion Republican leadership in Texas seized on the videos and stripped Planned Parenthood of its ability to access state Medicaid funding.  Planned Parenthood sued, and in 2017, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin rejected the state's action.

But the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is generally considered to be the most conservative of the federal appellate courts, ruled late Thursday that Sparks 'used the wrong standard' in making his ruling.

In a lengthy ruling, the Appeals Court said Judge Sparks failed to examine the Medicaid regulation that patients must seek treatment through a 'qualified provider,' saying he didn't examine thoroughly whether Planned Parenthood is or is not a qualified provider of medical services.  The court also said Sparks improperly studied Planned Parenthood's claim that the state ruling was 'arbitrary and capricious' and was prompted by the emotional impact of the now generally debunked videos, and not by serious medical study.

"Because  the  district  court  apparently  conducted de  novo  review  of  the  OIG’s  decision,  and  its  procedure  was  incompatible with the proper standard, the basis for its preliminary injunction cannot be sustained.  Whether plaintiffs might establish a likelihood of success on the merits depends on application of the arbitrary and capricious standard to the administrative record alone.We VACATE the preliminary injunction and REMAND this case to the District Court," the Appellate Court ruled.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the ruling.

“The 5th Circuit’s ruling shows that the district court applied the wrong legal standard,” Paxton said. “Planned Parenthood’s reprehensible conduct, captured in undercover videos, proves that it is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, so we are confident we will ultimately prevail.”

The ruling does not automatically block funding to Planned Parenthood.  It simply orders Judge Sparks to reconsider his ruling based on the new standards set out by the appellate court.


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