August 05, 2003
A little good news

Two items in the paper today to make me feel better about things. One is that Planned Parenthood has received a reprieve from a new state law whose intent is to deny it federal funding unless it stops performing abortions.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks granted Planned Parenthood a temporary injunction halting state enforcement of a law that would deny funding to clinics that provide abortions paid for with private donations.

That law was set to go into effect Sept. 1 but now must await the outcome of a trial on the merits of the case. A trial date has not been set.

At issue are 33 Planned Parenthood clinics across the state that provide abortions along with a range of other reproductive health services. About $13 million, including federal funds administered by the Texas Department of Health, would have been affected.

"This ruling would mean that all of those would be funded," said Health Department spokesman Doug McBride.

"As a state agency, we're obligated to do what the Legislature through law tells us to do until a court tells us otherwise," he added. "A court has told us otherwise, and we will comply with the judge's ruling."


Planned Parenthood argued that without the federal funds, it would no longer be able to provide Pap smears, family planning services, breast and cancer screenings and other health care to women.

In Houston and Southeast Texas, 23,000 women at nine Planned Parenthood clinics would have lost services, said Peter Durkin, chief executive officer at Planned Parenthood of Houston and the Southeast.

"It's a great sense of relief because the state fiscal year starts at the first of September," Durkin said. "This small victory will postpone implementation of any of the Draconian requirements of Rider 8."


The lawmakers voting for the measure also said they believe that, despite claims otherwise, Planned Parenthood subsidizes abortions somewhat through the federal funding. Planned Parenthood says numerous audits prove that isn't true.

Sparks' order noted Congress intended for federal money to fund clinics that provide reproductive counseling, cancer and sexually transmitted disease screening, physical examinations, pregnancy tests and other health services.

"The court finds the public interest will certainly be served by allowing the plaintiffs to continue receiving federal funds to provide these crucial services to women throughout Texas," Sparks concluded.

This was a truly brutal legislative session for reproductive rights, so anything to stem the tide is welcome.

The other item concerns the constitutional amendment to limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which was passed during the regular session. The state GOP, apparently afraid that a high turnout in the Houston mayoral election might sink this measure, moved the date of the election to September 13. With turnout expected to be extremely low, Harris County thought they'd save money by consolidating voting locations. After complaints from two County Commissioners, that decision was reversed.

"I think there's just a basic democratic principle of trying to be sure that people exercise their right to vote," Sylvia Garcia said last week, joining Commissioner El Franco Lee in criticizing the consolidation plan. "To me, everything that's been said about this election appears to discourage, to confuse and frustrate people to not vote."

Using a nearly full complement of 700 polling places will cost the county $1 million more than under the consolidation plan, Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman's office said Monday.

But it probably will not improve what already is expected to be a low turnout, a Rice University political science professor said.

"It's probably fairly marginal if you have an election involving constitutional issues at a time when there aren't any other major elections," Professor Earl Black said. "There will be very few people who will want to take the time on a busy Saturday to wade through what the Legislature has done."

Opponents of a state constitutional amendment on tort reform say the Sept. 13 date was chosen for that very reason, calling it a deliberate attempt to short-circuit voter turnout to improve the measure's chances to win approval.

"The hope is that the fewer the votes, the more impact the very, very conservative business, insurance and HMO interests have on the outcome," said Houston lawyer Ron Franklin, who is a co-founder of Texans for Civil Justice, a political action committee trying to defeat the amendment.

Be sure to thank your GOP representative or Senator for that extra million that Harris County is being forced to spend. They could have had this election on Election Day, but that was too complicated.

State Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, who wrote the tort reform law, denied Franklin's assertions.

"It was the first available election date," Nixon said. "The governor called it an emergency issue and it is. It needs to be resolved as quickly as we can get it resolved."

The amendment is intended, Nixon said, to thwart efforts to overturn a newly passed state medical malpractice law that would cap noneconomic damages at $750,000 in medical malpractice cases.

"There are 37,000 doctors in this state," Nixon said. "And I've been informed they're paying an average of $2,000 a month in medical malpractice premiums. That's $74 million a month in medical malpractice premiums. And knowing that we have a crisis regarding access to health care, it doesn't make any sense to wait any longer than necessary."

Would someone please contact Rep. Nixon and tell him what happens when people who testify about malpractice lawsuit abuse are sworn to tell the truth instead of being allowed to lie like cheap rugs? He might find it enlightening.

I'll post periodic reminders about this election as it draws near. If you feel like getting involved, here's the place to go.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 05, 2003 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

I wouldn't mind if federal funds did support abortion services. I understand that taxpayers don't want to fund abortions but I didn't want to fund the nuclear arms race but I couldn't separate my tax dollars from that unholy enterprise.

Posted by: Jaye on August 5, 2003 10:13 PM