Fire!! Aim? Ready?? That seems to be the sequence Gov.
Greg Abbott, and the Inspector General of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission are following in their all-out assault on Planned Parenthood.
Republican Abbott, a vehement opponent of abortion in general and Planned Parenthood in particular, has decreed Texas will stop Medicaid money from going to Planned Parenthood not just for abortions, but for any purpose.
Abbott’s action is in line with a national Republican reaction to the release of undercover videos that purport to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers.
“The Inspector General says he has evidence showing that Planned Parenthood altered the abortion procedure in order to obtain fetal tissue – this violates federal law, as well as state law,” Abbott told a Fox TV news interviewer. Stuart Bowen Jr., inspector general of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, sent letters Oct. 19, a Monday, to Texas Planned Parenthood officials, saying the organization is being dropped as a Medicaid provider.
Bowen’s letter said that undercover videos of fetal tissue practices show that the organization does not operate in a “professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner.”
Bowen charged that “earlier this year, [Planned Parenthood] committed and condoned numerous acts of misconduct captured on video that reveal repeated program violations and breach the minimum standards of care required of a Medicaid enrollee.”
On Thursday, Oct. 22, Bowen’s office made unannounced visits to Planned Parenthood centers in Brownsville, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, with subpoenas for Medicaid billing and personnel documents – to determine whether fraud had occurred.
On Saturday, Bowen acknowledged to Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune that the notice that Planned Parenthood would be terminated might sound more final than it actually is.
The initial demand to turn over the information within 24 hours soon was relaxed to several days. The request for phone numbers and addresses of employees and owners was dropped.
Planned Parenthood has 30 days to respond or be automatically severed from the program, according to Bowen’s letters. Bowen told Ramsey there probably will be a back-and-forth civil process as information is considered, and the health care providers can appeal any termination order to him.
Planned Parenthood had not indicated whether it will sue. But it’s likely.
For Abbott, it is an opportunity to please his right-wing Republican base, and probably raise his profile nationally. Abbott, formerly attorney general, seems eager to get to court.
“I hope for a legal challenge here,” Abbott told Fox — with the “hope” emphasis added on his campaign website — “because I want to get these Planned Parenthood officials under oath and get them to swear about the practices that they were conducting in the State of Texas.”
But Planned Parenthood officials say that the much-edited videos, designed to attack Planned Parenthood, contain scenes with no connection to the organization whatsoever.
The tissues for research are donated by the women getting abortions. The only money paid is reimbursement for expenses like storage and transportation.
Planned Parenthood’s national leader, Texan Cecile Richards, says the organization will no longer accept reimbursement for tissue donation costs, to remove it as an issue.
Rochelle Tafolla, of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said “Now Texas politicians are using thoroughly discredited, bogus attacks against Planned Parenthood as a shameful excuse to attack Texas women’s health yet again.”
Planned Parenthood’s officials says that just three percent of their cases involve abortion, and the organization is in complete compliance with the federal law that prohibits spending tax dollars for almost all abortions.
The organization says 97 percent of its services are provided to women – and a few men – seeking contraception, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, pregnancy testing and prenatal services, cancer screenings, and breast exams – though patients needing mammograms are referred to mammography specialists.
Abbott seems to have the state taking actions based on suspected acts that are disputed, without investigating first.
At least six states have investigated Planned Parenthood, and found no evidence of violation of laws. Seven other states decided there was not enough evidence to even warrant an investigation.
Federal judges have halted similar efforts to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana and Louisiana.
The U.S. Supreme Court has twice refused to review federal appeals court decisions to block cutoff of Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.
The high court’s tealeaves can be tough to read. But those two refusals may hint that the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, a Texas case, finding state laws that outlawed a woman’s right to have an abortion, to be unconstitutional, isn’t likely to be changed anytime soon.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.