We thought it was over — that Congress had finally given up on its crusade to defund Planned Parenthood. But the assault against the nation's leading family-planning organization continues despite evidence of any violation of federal law. Over the last week, we've seen this arguably misguided campaign not only play out on Capitol Hill, but also in states where abortion rights has remained a red-hot issue. While these states will likely not succeed in their mission to strip Medicaid funding away from their Planned Parenthood-affiliated health clinics, the week's events show that Planned Parenthood is not only a conservative buzzword to be thrown around on the campaign trail, but a real target that remains under threat of attack, whether financial or physical.
Yet it wasn't all fire and brimstone this week. Like always, as new assaults on reproductive rights emerge, another victory is secured. Here's a look at this week's big wins and fails in reproductive rights...
Congress Votes On Planned Parenthood...Again
The U.S. House of Represenatives held yet another vote to defund Planned Parenthood on Friday. In a 240-189 vote along party lines, the House passed HR 3762, which would direct all federal funds currently going toward Planned Parenthood to community health centers and repeal some major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including the individual and employer mandates. The House has attempted to repeal or partially repeal the ACA over 50 times.
The bill and its subsequent vote are largely symbolic gestures, as President Obama has promised to veto any legislation that strips funds away from the family-planning nonprofit.
Meanwhile, In Texas
On Monday, Texas cut state Medicaid funding from all Planned Parenthood clinics operating within the Lone Star State even though it's unlawful to block federal Medicaid payments for comprehensive health services, including contraception. Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that he made the decision in order to end the "gruesome harvesting of baby body parts." The govenor added that he was taking this measure, which would deny prevenvative health services such as contraception, cancer screenings and STI testing and treatment to thousands of Texans, in the name of women's health.
"As such, ending the Medicaid participation of Planned Parenthood affiliates in the State of Texas is another step in providing greater access to safe healthcare for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn," Abbott said.
Jessica González-Rojas of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health said the move would be "particularly harmful" for Latinas, many of whom live in the Rio Grande Valley where affordable health services are limited. "[Defunding Planned Parenthood in Texas] will hit hardest among the poor, rural, and largely Latina communities that were already reeling from the state’s relentless efforts to deny women their rights and access to essential health care," González-Rojas said in a statement.
But Texas didn't stop there. On Wednesday, the state's Health and Human Services Commission subpoenaed four Planned Parenthood clinics for patient records, billing histories and personal staff information such as home addresses and salaries. The state's health commission believes the nonprofit may have committed Medicaid fraud — or at least that's the story Texas is going with. Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas called the subpoena "unprecedented."
Then, on Thursday, state investigators went to those four Planned Parenthood clinics totally unannounced, Texas Monthly reported. The case is unfolding as sticky preemptive attack: Texas eliminated its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood before it launched its investigation into whether or not the organization committed Medicaid fraud. Unless the Texas health commission can prove Planned Parenthood indeed commit fraud, the Medicaid payments will be returned to its 35 health centers.
As this strange state investigation unfolds, all Texas Planned Parenthood clinics will remain open, the organization said Thursday. Let us be completely clear: Our health center doors are open, and our health center doors will remain open," said Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas CEO Ken Lambrecht.
Senators Work On Abortion Rights Overseas
For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has blocked foreign assistance funds from going toward not only abortion services overseas, but also to any organization that provides information on abortion as a family planning method. The amendment's vague language has led to a complete ban on funding for abortion overseas, with USAID barring NGOs from funding abortion services even in the cases of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is at risk. This ban even applies in countries where abortion is permitted in some or all circumstances.
Reproductive rights activists have been arguing for years that his all-out ban is a misinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, and has interfered with overseas organizations trying to provide comprehensive reproductive health services to patients in foreign countries — including poor and rural women, who are less likely to have the money or resources for a safe abortion.
Although Obama is a strong supporter of reproductive rights, his administration has continued to uphold this ban on overseas funding for NGOs providing abortion services in tragic or life-threatening cases. So, 28 U.S. Senators this week, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), sent an open letter to the president demanding a proper interpretation of the Helms Amendment.
"We urge you to exercise your existing authority to ensure U.S. foreign aid does not stand in the way of women and girls fleeing conflict who seek abortion services," the 28 senators wrote. "As the world's largest aid donor, the U.S. can and should endeavor to provide the reproductive health care that is desperately needed by some of the world's most vulnerable populations."
A Big Victory In Louisiana
While Texas was busy defunding Planned Parenthood without hard evidence, Louisiana was getting schooled in federal court. On Monday, Federal Judge John W. DeGravelles ordered Louisiana to continue making Medicaid payments to its Planned Parenthood centers, ruling that the state cannot stand in the way of "the uncontested and unquestioned facts" about Planned Parenthood and the services its clinics provide.
"[Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast] serves 5,200 poor and needy women, and PPGC has repeatedly been deemed a 'competent' provider by DHH," DeGravelles wrote in his order. "[The Court] honors the public interest in affording these women access to their provider of choice. …For decades, PPGC has served numerous at-risk individuals and helped DHH combat a host of diseases, and, in the process, become the regular provider of over 5,000 women, including the Individual Plaintiff."
This was Louisiana's second attempt at defunding Planned Parenthood — the state also lost in federal court the first time around. With this ruling, Planned Parenthood in Louisiana can continue providing contraception, STI testing, cancer screenings and other services to low-income residents.
"It is shameful that Governor Jindal is trying to score political points by blocking women’s access to critical health care," Melissa Flournoy , Louisiana State Director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said Monday in a statement. "We are proud to keep working hand-in-hand with the state and community partners to help thousands of hardworking Louisianans access critical health care. We will never stop fighting to provide health care services for the women and men in Louisiana."