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Video fraudsters to go to trial

All righty then.

Right there with them

Right there with them

David Robert Daleiden, 27, and his colleague, Sandra Susan Merritt, 63, both of California, have rejected a plea deal that would have effectively put an end to the criminal charges against them, their lawyers confirmed Friday.

“I don’t advise my clients to accept responsibility for cases that they haven’t done anything wrong in,” said Dan Cogdell, Merritt’s attorney.

The pair were charged in January with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to buy human organs.

After a brief status hearing Friday, attorneys said they will not accept offers of pretrial diversion, a low-level probation that would have allowed the charges against them to be dismissed if they did not break the law for a year. It’s commonly offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to first-time offenders with minor charges such as shoplifting.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Daleiden filed motions to quash the indictments against him, arguing that the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

See here and here for the background. The defense has alleged that DA Devon Anderson is in cahoots with Planned Parenthood, the defendants are utterly convinced of their righteousness and are prepared to martyr themselves for their cause. This will be…interesting. There’s no mention of a court date, so we’ll just have to be patient.

Two Medicaid stories

From the Trib:

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

State health officials confirmed Tuesday they have asked the Obama administration to keep a 15-month lifeline of federal Medicaid money flowing into Texas to help hospitals treat uninsured patients.

That money would offer temporary relief to health care providers who face losing the funds — some $3.1 billion annually — over state leaders’ refusal to provide government-subsidized health coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health law.

Federal officials previously signaled they would stop footing the bill for at least some of Texas’ costs for “uncompensated care” — the burden on hospitals when patients can’t pay for their visits. Under the Affordable Care Act, Texas was encouraged to expand its Medicaid program to cover nearly 1 million additional adults living in poverty — a move that would have given more poor patients a means to pay for care. The state’s Republican leadership has vehemently opposed that option, criticizing Medicaid as an inefficient government program.

[…]

First created as a $29 billion pot of money paid to Texas health care providers over five years, about 40 percent of that money came from local funds — mostly property tax dollars — and 60 percent from the federal government. The Obama administration approved the program in 2011, and it was set to expire in September.

By asking for the program to be renewed for a significantly shorter timeframe, state health officials indicated that they expect the federal government will be reluctant to continue handing out cash to reimburse hospitals for patients who can’t pay for their visits. Federal health officials have repeatedly told state leaders they have no desire to use waiver funds to pay for costs that would otherwise be covered by a Medicaid expansion.

In Florida, the Obama administration recently agreed to extend a similar source of hospital funding in that state, but only for two years and at a significantly reduced rate. That arrangement diminished the state’s low-income pool by about 50 percent for the first year and 70 percent for the second.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. This is the 1115 waiver, and I’ve been rooting for the feds to tell Texas to go pound sand unless they expand Medicaid. This is at least a step in that direction.

And from Think Progress:

The Obama Administration just sent a strong signal to states trying to defund Planned Parenthood, warning all 50 states that attempts to strip Medicaid funding from the women’s health care provider is most likely illegal.

The letter, sent to each state’s Medicaid director, cautions lawmakers that “providing the full range of women’s health services… shall not be grounds for a state’s action against a provider in the Medicaid program.” In other words, the fact Planned Parenthood provides abortion services in addition to other women’s health services is not legal grounds to cut it off from Medicaid funding. It stipulates that the only justifiable reason to remove a provider’s Medicaid funding is if that provider isn’t able to bill for or perform covered medical services.

“Once again, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made it clear that it’s illegal for politicians to tell women where they can and cannot go for care,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, in a statement.

[…]

The Obama Administration has warned specific states before that cutting off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood may violate federal law, but this is the first time that they have sent a letter to every state in the country.

As we know, Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit against Texas after it announced it was cutting PP out of any program it hadn’t already cut them out of as punishment for those faked videos by the fraudsters Daleiden and Merritt. I don’t know what effect, if any, this federal action will have on that, but I do know we could easily solve all these problems (and more) if Texas would expand Medicaid and obey the law. It’s all so simple, really.

It’s a conspiracy!

Oh, noes! Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with the Harris County DA! Run for your lives!

The anti-abortion activist accused of falsifying records to secretly videotape Planned Parenthood officials in Houston is accusing the Harris County district attorney’s office of illegally colluding with the nonprofit.

The allegations were raised in court documents filed Thursday seeking to dismiss the charge against David Robert Daleiden, of Davis, Calif.

[…]

On Thursday, his attorneys filed motions to quash the indictments, saying the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

“The DA’s office has chosen to wage a war on the pro-life movement,” said attorney Jared Woodfill. “We believe there is clear evidence of Planned Parenthood actually colluding with and pushing the District Attorney’s office to move forward with these indictments.”

At a press conference on the courthouse steps that Daleiden did not attend, Woodfill and attorney Terry Yates said the indictments are “fatally flawed.”

The motions filed to quash the felony charge is here, and for the misdemeanor charge is here. I’ve read through the first one, and with the usual reminder that I Am Not A Lawyer, it looks to me like the bulk of the issue being taken is with the grand jury being held over:

The investigation of Planned Parenthood was brought before the 232nd grand jury [in] September [of 2015].

However, at the close of the 2015 term, no action had been taken in the investigation of Planned Parenthood. A grand jury “hold over” order was drafted by the Harris County District Attorney’s office and presented to the 232rd Court for entry on December 16, 2015. (Exhibit “B”). However, in that order, the prosecutor failed to specifically state or articulate any specific individual or case that the grand jury was holding over to investigate. The order recites boilerplate language set forth in Section 19.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure; however, due to the lack of specificity required the order is deficient.

From there, they complain that evidence from the grand jury hearings was provided to lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, including video evidence that was supposed to be covered by a temporary restraining order, and that Daleiden’s lawyers were never notified that he had become a target of the investigation. They cite various mainstream media accounts published after Daleiden and Merritt were indicted as evidence of this.

I’ll leave it to the attorneys in attendance to comment on the claims made by Woodfill and Yates. My layman’s impression is that hold over grand juries are fairly routine – whether they need specific instructions about who or what is being investigated is not something I know – and as for the alleged collusion, I kind of have a hard time believing the lawyers involved, including the assistant DAs, would be that stupid if this was indeed something shady. I would also note that Tamara Tabo, who unlike me is a lawyer and who also unlike me opposes abortion, believes it is clear that Daleiden did indeed break the law. Which doesn’t mean that the indictments weren’t compromised and won’t be tossed, but it is worth keeping in mind. Woodfill and Yates aren’t arguing Daleiden isn’t guilty of anything, they’re arguing the process went bad. I can’t wait to see what the judge makes of this. The Trib, which supplied the defendant’s motions, and the Press have more.

More troubles for the Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Investigators with the California Department of Justice on Tuesday raided the home of David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind a series of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the activist said.

Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But the raid confirms that California is among the states looking into possible criminal activity on the part of Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, which have been the center of controversy since releasing videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for a profit.

[…]

The National Abortion Federation, a professional organization for abortion providers that was also targeted in Daleiden’s videos, lauded news of the raid.

“We fully support a thorough investigation into the activities perpetrated by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress,” president Vicki Saporta said in a statement. “As the evidence has shown in our case, he engaged in a long-running criminal conspiracy. His actions are not without consequences.”

Saporta said the videos have led to a spike in threats and violence against abortion clinics.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given all that’s been said and done so far, it’s hard not to see that surge in violence directed at the clinics as anything but a planned outcome. I’ll say again, I’m happy for Daleiden to martyr himself for this cause, as long as he really really gets to suffer for it. He’s earned every bit of retribution coming his way. It’s my further hope that the evidence that California authorities uncover can be used to help facilitate those consequences. Daily Kos, Politico, the Chron, and Kevin Drum have.

Local Planned Parenthood joins lawsuit against the video fraudsters

Good.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Texas-based Planned Parenthood affiliate on Thursday moved to join a federal lawsuit filed in California against the anti-abortion group behind undercover videos of the organization’s clinics.

The lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco-based federal court in January, alleges the Center for Medical Progress engaged in conspiracy, fraud and other activities that violate organized crime law and other federal regulations in its pursuit of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood. Citing recordings of staff at a Houston clinic, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast filed to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

The recordings, released by the group last summer, depicted Planned Parenthood staff discussing the procurement of fetal tissue. The group alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses — an accusation the organization has vehemently denied.

The lawsuit against the group was first filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and seven California affiliates against the Center for Medical Progress, Biomax Procurement Services and several anti-abortion activists, including videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt.

See here for the background on the existing lawsuit, and here for a copy of the complaint. There’s another federal lawsuit against these clowns as well, plus a lawsuit by PP against the state over revocation of Medicaid funds. If these CMP idiots want to be martyrs for their cause, I hope the justice system helps them get there, one judgment (and conviction) at a time. The Chron and the Observer have more.

How much more “undue” does it need to be?

HB2 is doing exactly what it was intended to do.

A new report released Thursday shows Texas abortion patients traveled farther for services and experienced higher out-of-pocket costs following the closure of more than half of the state’s legal abortion providers in 2014. The closures came after the implementation of parts of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, which is currently being challenged at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thursday’s is the latest report from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), a University of Texas research group that studies the long-term effects of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law and other changes to reproductive health funding and policies. TxPEP surveyed 398 women who sought abortions between May and August of 2014, when all but 19 abortion clinics in Texas were closed. Researchers then compared the experiences of two groups: women whose nearest clinic closed after HB 2’s admitting privileges requirement first took effect, and those whose nearest clinic didn’t close.

Women whose nearest clinic closed (38 percent of the 398 surveyed) ended up traveling an average of 85 miles for their abortion, while those whose nearest clinic stayed open (62 percent) traveled 22 miles. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the national average distance traveled to an abortion clinic is 30 miles.

[…]

Researchers found that 32 percent of women whose nearest clinic closed reported spending more than $100 in out-of-pocket expenses to access abortion because of extra necessities, such as transportation, overnight accommodations, child care, and also lost wages from taking time off work. Those expenses were added to the cost of the procedure itself.

Either the “undue burden” standard – which Anthony Kennedy authored – means something, or it doesn’t. If this law doesn’t violate that standard, then we may as well admit that it means nothing. I continue to hope that the good Anthony Kennedy will be there for this one. Newsdesk and Think Progress have more.

Oral arguments before SCOTUS on HB2

From Texas Monthly:

Right there with them

Right there with them

It’s been a circuitous journey for HB2, the omnibus abortion bill the Texas Legislature passed 2013. Suits have been filed, the law has been overturned, appeals have been made. A collection of Texas abortion clinics, led by Whole Woman’s Health, filed the most debated lawsuit, which is aimed the broader provisions of the bill: Specifically, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt challenges the constitutionality of HB2’s requirement that doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals and also the requirement that each clinic meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.

Although the case had a similar courtroom path to previous suits against the law—including being overturned at the district level—Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt went even further. The Supreme Court stepped in almost immediately to issue an injunction against HB2 going into effect until the high court had the chance to hear it on appeal.

That happened Wednesday.

New York-based attorney Stephanie Toti, representing Whole Woman’s Health (and joined by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli), made her arguments against HB2 before the eight-members of the court; representing Texas and Hellerstedt, our state’s Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the law.

There are a few key issues to be determined by the court. The first is if Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt is the appropriate case to be raising these arguments, or if another case, Planned Parenthood vs. Abbott, should have addressed them. Also related to that facet of the case is if the window for examining the law has since closed because that suit didn’t appeal to the Supreme Court. The second issue—and the one that received the majority of the focus Wednesday—is on the question of the “undue burden” on Texans seeking abortions. In the last major abortion case the court heard, 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the court found that states could impose restrictions on abortion if the restrictions didn’t pose an undue burden on the rights of the person who seeks an abortion. But that ruling didn’t specify a definition for “undue burden,” so attorneys on both sides attempted to make claims that the phrase does—or doesn’t—refer to HB2.

[…]

The pressure stayed on Keller throughout the duration of his argument, with Sotomayor and Kagan looking past “undue burden” to get to the ultimate question surrounding the bill since it was being debated in Austin: Namely, is this about increasing standards of care, as some proponents of the bill have argued, or is it about restricting access, as the law’s opponents have claimed? (It’s worth noting that some of the bill’s supporters in the legislature—from former Lt. Governor Dewhurst to Sen. Eddie Lucio—have expressed more openly that they passed the bill out of an interest in opposing abortion.)

This came to a head near the close of oral arguments. Kagan hit on several points about the state’s interest in raising standards of care: She’d asked, for example, about whether the state had the right to require all health care providers to meet the standard of the best hospital in the country (citing Massachusetts General), to which Keller responded that the state did have that right, so long as it didn’t create an undue burden on people seeking treatment. Breyer and Sotomayor noted that the rate of complications in colonoscopies are higher than in abortions, but facilities that offer colonoscopies don’t face the same regulations that abortion clinics do under HB2. (The word “colonoscopy” was said a surprisingly high number of times for a Supreme Court hearing about abortion.)

But near the end of Keller’s argument, Kagan cut to the chase. She noted that she understood that Keller’s argument was that the law allows Texas to impose regulations on abortion clinics that it doesn’t apply to other procedures—but she wanted to know why it picked abortion.

“You said that as the law is now, under your interpretation of it, Texas is allowed to set much, much higher medical standards, whether it has to do with the personnel or procedures or the facilities themselves, higher medical standards, including much higher medical standards for abortion facilities than for facilities that do any other kind of medical work, even much more risky medical work. And you said that that was your understanding of the law; am I right?” Kagan asked Keller, “And I guess I just want to know: why would Texas do that?”

In all, it was an aggressive series of questions from the court’s liberal justices—but the fact that the four liberal justices would find a lot to dislike in HB2 isn’t exactly news. In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death, the question became much more about what could be expected of the four remaining judges on the bench.

From Think Progress:

Prior to Wednesday’s oral argument and Scalia’s death, however, it was an open question whether this law would actually “withstand judicial obstacles.” The question on most Court-watchers’ mind was which Justice Kennedy would show up to hear this case. On the one hand, Kennedy finds abortion icky — just read some of the gruesome descriptions of a particular abortion procedure in Kennedy’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart to get a sense of just how icky he regards it. On the other hand, Kennedy is unwilling to kill Roe outright. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Kennedy coauthored an opinion that limited abortion rights, but which also purported to retain “the essential holding ofRoe v. Wade.” So the question on many Court-watchers minds before oral argument was whether Icky Kennedy or Casey Kennedy would show up to work today.

Icky Kennedy stayed at home. Though Kennedy did ask some tough questions about a procedural issue in this case, he largely remained silent as the liberal justices tore into Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller. And he asked a few questions on the merits that were critical of Keller’s arguments.

The liberal justices treated Texas’ arguments in much the same way that Holly Holm treated Ronda Rousey’s head. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that it makes no sense to require clinics to comply with expensive requirements applied to surgical facilities if those clinics perform no surgeries. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor noted that Texas imposed these heavy burdens on abortion clinics, but did not impose them on facilities that perform riskier procedures. Colonoscopies, according to Breyer, are 28 times more likely to result in a complication than an abortion, but they do not need to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center.

[…]

Kennedy was almost completely silent during these one-sided exchanges, although he did chime in with a few questions while Keller was at the podium. At one point, he suggested that Keller’s arguments lead to the conclusion that Texas’s law creates an “undue burden” on the right to obtain an abortion, a conclusion that, under Casey, would require the Court to strike the law down. At another point, Kennedy expressed concern that the law caused many women who would otherwise have medication abortions to instead receive surgical abortions, a shift that “may not be medically wise.”

So that’s the good news for Team Choice. If this case is decided on the merits, it appears very likely that Kennedy will vote to strike down the Texas law.

The bad news is that it is far from clear that the Court will reach the merits. For complicated reasons related to the fact that the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical centers requirements were implemented on different schedules, the lower courts in this case ruled on a facial challenge to the first provision before fully considering the second one. Whole Woman’s Health came to the Supreme Court as an appeal from the second decision, and Texas argues that the plaintiffs are effectively precluded from pressing their facial challenge to the admitting privileges requirement at this stage of the litigation. Without diving into the very arcane nuances of this argument, it’s worth noting that this is a serious enough procedural complication that Justice Ginsburg raised it shortly after the lawyer for the plaintiffs’ took the podium.

During the Court’s discussion of this procedural issue, Kennedy raised the possibility of sending this case back down to the trial court so that it can engage in additional fact-finding that will help the justices sort through this issue. Should the Supreme Court ultimately go this route, it could delay final resolution of the case for as long as a couple of years. That’s not death to the abortion clinics in Texas, so long as the Texas law is stayed pending resolution of the case, but the possibility of more litigation undoubtedly hit abortion advocates with a thud as they contemplated two more years of fighting and uncertainty.

From SCOTUSBlog:

But when the argument turned from the reason for closures to a question of the capacity of any remaining clinics to handle the tens of thousands of abortions that women in the state seek every year, the case shifted abruptly. It was Kennedy who raised the possibility that the case be sent back to lower courts to allow lawyers to put in evidence about that capacity question.

Several things immediately seemed important about that suggestion.

First, it would allow the Court to avoid a decision about the validity of either part of the Texas law, if it should turn out that, at Friday’s planned discussion of the case in a private Conference, the initial vote came out split four to four (the late Justice Antonin Scalia was a fervent foe of abortions). Returning the case for gathering of new evidence would avoid that outcome — indeed, any immediate outcome — and thus would avoid the even division that settles nothing and always disappoints the Court. It might even put off the case until the current vacancy on the bench is filled with a new Justice.

Second, of equal or perhaps even greater importance, there may have been a logical basis for that suggestion and it could have been in Kennedy’s mind. If he had any inclination to uphold either or both of the provisions, Kennedy would understand that this would probably lead to a four-to-four tie. But taking that position would mean he had done so without knowing whether the capacity of the remaining clinics — nine or ten at most — would be enough to handle all abortions that would be sought in the state (recently, between 60,000 and 75,000 a year)? Thus Kennedy might hesitate even more to push the Court into a tie vote.

Third, Kennedy’s hesitation on taking a stand on the merits of the law seemed even more likely because of a question he asked later in the argument. He pressed the lawyer for Texas, state Solicitor General Scott A. Keller, on whether the enforcement of the two provisions would actually lead more women to have more abortions through surgery, by forcing them to wait, with more risk than having an earlier abortion through the use of drugs that induce termination of pregnancy (“medical abortion”).

Kennedy cited data that the number of drug-induced abortions had increased nationally, but the number in Texas was down, and he commented that “this may not be medically wise.” The abortion clinics and doctors who are challenging the Texas laws have made that prospect a part of their argument that the two provisions impose an unconstitutional burden on Texas women’s constitutional right to seek an abortion, and Kennedy appeared to have taken that seriously.

Returning the case to lower courts to get more evidence on the incidence of later abortions might be one way to deal with that prospect, but so would striking down the law — by a five-to-three vote — because of the negative consequences of inducing more mid-term abortions. Since Roe v. Wade, the Court (including Kennedy since he joined the bench) has always been more comfortable with earlier abortions, partly because they are safer but also because of a concern for protecting the developing life of the fetus. Kennedy was a key part of the Court’s compromise ruling in 1992 (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey) when the Court expressed new support for state power to protect potential life, an interest that was said to increase the longer a pregnancy continues.

The Justices will cast at least a preliminary vote on the case when they assemble on Friday morning for a private Conference. If the case is going to be sent back to lower courts, or if the Court essentially gives up and casts a four-to-four vote, those outcomes might be announced quite soon, perhaps as early as next Monday. There is, of course, the possibility that more discussion would be necessary to sort out where the Court wants to go.

So basically, there’s a case for optimism, with the possibility of the law being struck down, and the possibility of it being sent back to the lower court for more hearings, while the injunction presumably stays in place. If the latter happens, then the issue could be revisited after a new justice is appointed, hopefully by President Clinton or Sanders. We may know quickly if that is going to happen, or we may not. Keep your fingers crossed. The WaPo, SCOTUSBlog, the Trib, and the Observer have more.

UPDATE: Still more, from Dahlia Lithwick, Alexa Garcia-Ditta, Genevieve Cato, and Jessica Mason Pieklo.

SCOTUS to hear HB2 oral arguments

It’s the big one.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Before Wendy Davis took to the floor of the Texas Senate for an 11-hour filibuster that ultimately failed to stop sweeping new restrictions on abortion, there was Casey.

Shorthand for Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion but gave states more power to restrict the procedure to “further the health or safety of a woman.” The 5-4 ruling, however, also said states can’t enact “unnecessary” regulations that have the “purpose or effect” of imposing an undue burden on those seeking the procedure.

On Wednesday, the court is expected to revisit the standards set by Casey — and potentially redefine the next era of abortion restrictions in the United States — when it takes up a legal challenge to Texas’ 2013 abortion restrictions, collectively known as House Bill 2. The Texas case, formally known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, will allow the court to address disagreements among lower courts over what constitutes an undue burden and clarify how far states can go in restricting abortion.

It’s the next step of a legal journey that began in Texas when lawmakers passed HB 2 almost three years ago. The law requires abortion clinics begin to meet the same standards as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, which range from minimum sizes for rooms and doorways to the number of nurses required to be on staff. A separate provision requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

Only 19 Texas clinics remain of the more than 40 that were open before HB 2 passed, and the restrictions are blamed. If the Supreme Court upholds the abortion law in its entirety that number could fall to less than 10, all in major metropolitan areas.

“There will be a right in name as long as Roe is still on the books, but if there are no clinics, then what does that really mean in terms of the right to abortion if you can’t exercise the right?” asked Cary C. Franklin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “This case really puts that question front and center.”

Indeed it does, though the makeup of the Court right now clouds things a bit. If we get the good Anthony Kennedy, in which case HB2 would have been struck down even with Antonin Scalia still on the bench, then perhaps there will finally be a limit put on the radical state legislators who have been busy enacting a tidal wave of dishonest laws whose sole focus is denying that right to women who wish to exercise it. If not – and some people think Scalia’s death makes Kennedy more likely to uphold Texas’ law – then that right is largely going to vanish in Texas and almost certainly Louisiana as well, though the rest of the country will still be in flux. The one thing that could change this is a Democratic President with a Democratic Senate that will allow SCOTUS to be restored to nine Justices. I mean, there’s no reason to believe Mitch McConnell will change his mind about voting on a replacement Justice if he’s still Majority Leader under President Clinton or Sanders, right? Maybe Kennedy will be dissuaded by the specter of chaos, or maybe he’ll just have had enough. For now, that’s the best hope. A summary and overview of the case from RH Reality Check is beneath the fold, and the Chron has more.

(more…)

Federal judge smacks video fraudsters

That’s gonna leave a mark.

Right there with them

Right there with them

In a sharp rebuke, a federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction ordering abortion opponents not to release videos they had secretly made at meetings of abortion providers, and he added that the opponents’ claims that such organizations were illegally selling fetal tissue were baseless.

In the ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of United States District Court in San Francisco also brushed aside claims by the abortion opponents that their use of fraudulent documents and violations of confidentiality agreements to infiltrate meetings of abortion providers were protected because they were journalists involved in what they described as an undercover investigation.

The ruling marked the second major setback in recent weeks for the anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress.

[…]

In his ruling, Judge Orrick said that his review of hundreds of hours of video secretly shot by the center at meetings of abortion providers found no evidence that any of them had violated the law. No one “admitted to engaging in, agreed to engage in, or expressed interest in engaging in potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit,” he wrote.

Lawyers for the Center for Medical Progress argued in the case that the First Amendment protected the group because its members were informing the public about abortion providers — a defense that Mr. Daleiden has also raised against the recent criminal charges.

But Judge Orrick said that the desire of the National Abortion Federation to have its members protected from unwarranted harassment was paramount. And he questioned whether Mr. Daleiden and his colleagues were involved in journalism.

He wrote that the group’s projects “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions.”

This lawsuit was filed last July; there was already a temporary restraining order barring the CMP from releasing videos, transcripts or other material from the meetings pending the judge’s review. There is a separate lawsuit filed last month by Planned Parenthood against the CMP as well. None of this has anything to do with the criminal case against the fraudsters, but the judge’s ruling does directly address their stated defense that they’re just journalists doing normal journalistic things. I feel confident that ruling will be given a careful reading by the Harris County DA’s office. It’s also a reminder that these guys are lying liars who have lied about pretty much everything so far, and while a strategy of lying can score some political points, it generally won’t get you very far in court. In a more decent society, people who had previously sided with these guys would be backing away from them now, not wanting to have their own credibility tainted by association with them. You can draw your own conclusions as to why Texas Republicans like Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton have not done so.

The easily predicted results of de-funding Planned Parenthood have resulted as predicted

Who’d a thunk it?

Right there with them

Right there with them

A new study released Wednesday reports that after anti-abortion Texas lawmakers blocked Planned Parenthood from participating in the Texas Women’s Health Program (TWHP) in 2013, fewer low-income women received the most effective kinds of contraception. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is also the first to analyze the subsequent significant rise in some Medicaid-covered deliveries after the provider’s ouster.

Comparing quarterly medical and pharmaceutical claims from 2011 to 2014, researchers with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) found that 35 percent fewer patients received highly effective intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants — known as long-acting, reversible contraception (LARC) — over the four-year period. Claims for the injectable Depo shot, which requires follow up every three months, decreased by 31 percent. Researchers found that the rate of Medicaid-covered deliveries among women in the Depo group then increased by 27 percent.

The reduction in claims, said lead author Amanda Stevenson, highlights the fact that despite recent state efforts to recruit more providers, and claims of successwithout Planned Parenthood, patients have lost services.

“The reproductive health safety net cannot just absorb all of the demand for highly effective contraception when you remove Planned Parenthood from the network,” Stevenson told the Observer. TxPEP’s findings, she said, “directly contradict” claims “that Planned Parenthood can be removed from federally-funded healthcare programs and other providers will just step up to pick up the slack.”

[…]

For this study, TxPEP focused on patient claims that reflect the eligibility criteria for enrollees in the TWHP: legal Texas residents between the ages of 18 and 44 and who live at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line (an annual income of approximately $44,000 for a family of four). They also compared services in counties with and without a Planned Parenthood health center.

The study found that contraceptive claims decreased most dramatically in counties with Planned Parenthood clinics, while counties without a Planned Parenthood clinic were largely unaffected.

The percentage of women who returned for their birth control shot every three months illustrates the long-term impact of losing Planned Parenthood as a program provider. Before the exclusion, 56.9 percent of patients living in counties with a Planned Parenthood clinic received their follow-up injections. After the exclusion, just 37.7 percent of patients got their subsequent shots.

In addition to cutting family planning funding by more than $70 million, the 2011 Legislature also funneled what remained of the state’s available family planning dollars away from specialty reproductive health providers, including Planned Parenthood. That, compounded by the cuts, led to the closure of 82 family planning clinics statewide; about one third of those were Planned Parenthood health centers.

I don’t even know what else to say, so I’m just going to let this speak for itself. Just repeat after me: Nothing will change until our electoral results change.

Video fraudsters offered probation

First the one, on Wednesday.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A California woman charged last week for her role in the production of undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic will be offered probation, a Harris County prosecutor said in court.

Sandra Susan Merritt, of San Jose, Calif., appeared in court Wednesday morning on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony which carried a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

[…]

On Wednesday, Merritt made her bail, was processed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and turned herself in to state District Judge Brock Thomas. Dressed in her regular clothes, she appeared with a team of defense attorneys. She was also accompanied to and from the court by a handful of sheriff’s deputies because of the intense media scrutiny the case has generated, according to one official.

Merritt, who sat in the gallery with supporters, did not appear before the judge or speak in court. During a scheduling conference at the bench, Assistant District Attorney Sunni Mitchell said she is not considered a flight risk. The prosecutor said Merritt will be offered pre-trial diversion, a form of probation that typically does not require a guilty plea or stringent conditions. Typically reserved for low-level non-violent first offenders, like shoplifters, a suspect is diverted out of the court system. If they stay out of trouble, the charges are eventually dismissed. Merritt’s case was rescheduled until next month to work out the parameters of her probation.

Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would not discuss whether Daleiden would be offered a similar deal when he appears in court Thursday.

They did offer him a similar deal, and he rejected it.

Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

[…]

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

[…]

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Don’t bother. He ain’t taking it, whatever it is.

“The only thing we’re going to accept is an apology,” said Daleiden’s defense attorney Terry Yates. “We believe the indictments are factually and legally insufficient.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson responded that she has offered the videographer and his associate, Sandra Susan Merritt, 62, of San Jose, Calif., an “exit from their legal predicament.”

She also accused the activists of using their criminal charges to grandstand in a case that has drawn national attention due to heated opinions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“Currently, no evidence has been presented to me that gives me legal grounds to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt,” she said by email. “Among those familiar with criminal prosecution, my offer would be immediately accepted as ‘an offer you can’t refuse;’ unless of course, your goal is not to avoid prosecution, but rather to keep the circus going and going.”

[…]

“It’s unusual because a pre-trial diversion is a pretty sweet outcome for an alleged felony,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. He said Daleiden could have several reasons for refusing the offer, including believing that the law is not justified, that a jury would never convict him or that being convicted would add significance to his anti-abortion crusade.

“This guy thinks that what he did is morally justified,” Corn said. “Every now and then you encounter a defendant who, for whatever reason, says ‘I don’t believe in the law.'”

It’s more than fine by me that Daleiden rejected this offer, because I want them to be convicted of something, and I think their “we’re journalists and we did what journalists do” defense is deeply flawed. They don’t need to have jail time – honestly, this is not the sort of crime that really calls for jail time – but there needs to be an example set, to at least make any future copycats think twice. The reason why a conviction really matters is because the real potential for punishment will come from the civil courts, and nothing will help the various lawsuits against these clowns like a guilty plea or verdict. I’m not surprised that Daleiden rejected the plea – these people are believers, and I suspect more than willing to play the martyr – and I won’t be surprised if Merritt does as well. And if/when that happens, I want to see them nailed at trial.

How the tables got turned on the video fraudsters

A must read.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy was in some ways similar to how corporations facing major white-collar criminal investigations often cooperate closely with prosecutors to try to influence the outcome.

From the start, Planned Parenthood and its Houston lawyer Josh Schaffer settled on a strategy of cooperating with investigators, said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for the affiliate. It included volunteering documents and encouraging prosecutors to interview employees, as well as giving prosecutors tours of the Houston facility, according to Schaffer.

“We certainly began the process as suspects of a crime, and the tables got turned and we ended up victims of a crime,” Schaffer told Reuters in an interview.

Schaffer was retained by Planned Parenthood last summer when Texas officials demanded it face a criminal investigation after the anti-abortion activists posted videos online purporting to show the organization’s employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, which is illegal in the United States if done for a profit.

[…]

Although what happened during the grand jury’s secret deliberations may never be known, Schaffer said it did not vote on whether to indict Planned Parenthood.

That is because the grand jury’s focus shifted to a case against the anti-abortion campaigners, Schaffer said on a conference call with reporters, citing information he said he received from a prosecutor.

Planned Parenthood said that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses in April 2015 when they posed as executives from a fictitious company to secretly film conversations at the Houston facility. That led to the charges they used fake government documents with the intent to defraud.

One critical juncture in the case may have occurred when Planned Parenthood gave law enforcement an important tip: Merritt’s true name, according to Schaffer.

Her identity remained unknown from the time she visited Planned Parenthood with a fake California driver’s license until about December when Daleiden revealed it during a deposition as part of a separate civil lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles, Schaffer said.

As part of his strategy, Schaffer said he explicitly pushed prosecutors to charge Daleiden and Merritt.

“I made the argument regarding the charges that the grand jury returned,” Schaffer said in the interview, “but I did not have to make them very forcefully because it was self-evident to the prosecutors that they engaged in this conduct.”

Fascinating, and I expect it will just enrage the people who are already losing their minds over this, but as I said before a lie can only be sustained for so long. Sooner or later, you have to put your cards on the table. It’s not like we couldn’t have guessed that these guys were liars – there’s a long evidence trail of people like them saying and doing similar things. It’s not even the first time that DA Devon Anderson has been called upon to investigate some wild claims about an abortion provider that turned out to be complete fabrications and lurid fantasies. It’s one thing to believe these stories even though the objective evidence suggests they’re too outrageous to be true (as Daniel Davies has said, there’s no fancy Latin phrase for giving a known liar the benefit of the doubt), but it’s another thing entirely (as Fred Clark often reminds us) to want to believe them, to fervently hope that they really are true, and to keep on believing them even when any reasonable person knows they are not true.

Which brings us to the fraudsters’ defense attorneys, who have their own impossible things to believe.

“We believe this is a runaway grand jury that has acted contrary to the law,” former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve gone after the whistle-blowers.”

Woodfill and prominent criminal defense attorney Terry Yates announced they will represent the two activists and said their defense will turn on First Amendment protections afforded to undercover journalists and focus on the activists’ “intent” when they created fake identifications and offered to buy fetal tissue from a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast office last year.

On Wednesday, Woodfill and Yates conceded that Daleiden, 27, and Merritt, 62, used fake California driver’s licenses to conceal their identities to gain entry to Planned Parenthood offices and corresponded with officials.

“These are techniques that investigative journalists have used for years,” Woodfill said. “If they were to criminalize this conduct, most investigative journalists would be prosecuted for doing the exact same or similar things.”

Fred Brown, an ethics expert for the Society of Professional Journalists, said reporters rarely falsify their identities and said it is “frowned upon.”

“It should be considered a last resort and it’s not really ethical,” Brown said.

Most major newspapers have rules against reporters concealing their identities or using fake names.

Law professor Eugene Volokh would take issue with what Woodfill says, too. It’s interesting to read the story and see how many times they retracted or walked back something they initially asserted. The amount of mental gymnastics they are doing must be quite tiresome.

One more thing:

Daleiden also is charged with trying to purchase human organs, namely fetal tissue, a Class A misdemeanor.

Woodfill scoffed at the charge, saying, “It’s going to be very difficult for prosecutors to say that they intended to actually purchase human body parts.”

Um, wasn’t the whole point of their exercise to prove that body parts were being sold? How could they do that if they didn’t also believe they could buy them? I know, that’s not quite the same as “intent” in a legal sense, but I think their story will be a little harder for a jury to believe if the claim is they were just trying to get Planned Parenthood to give them their price list. Murray Newman, the Wall Street Journal, the Press, Campos, and David Ortez have more.

Every investigation on Planned Parenthood has cleared them

From Think Progress:

After a months-long investigation, a Texas grand jury decided not to indict Planned Parenthood on Monday — providing more confirmation that there’s no solid evidence to support the accusations against the national women’s health organization.

This trend goes far beyond Texas. Across the country, GOP-led investigations into Planned Parenthood’s activities haven’t turned up any proof that the organization is breaking the law.

Planned Parenthood has been under fire thanks to a series of undercover videos secretly filmed byanti-abortion activists affiliated with a sting group called the Center for Medical Progress. After those videos were released, right-wing lawmakers rushed to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally trafficking in aborted baby parts, and GOP officials launched investigations into the group at both the state and federal levels. This fall, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was required to testify before Congress to defend her organization’s activities.

Despite the increased scrutiny on Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program, however, Republican officials are coming up empty.

In addition to the grand jury in Texas, officials in 11 other states — Kansas, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and South Dakota — have also concluded their investigations into Planned Parenthood by clearing the organizationof any wrongdoing. Many of these investigations have been quite extensive and time consuming. In Missouri, for example, the state attorney general confirmed there’s no evidence of misconduct at the state’s only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis after reviewing more than 3,500 pages of documents and conducting multiple interviews with the clinic’s employees.

Eight additional states, meanwhile, have determined they don’t have enough evidence against Planned Parenthood to justify conducting an investigation in the first place. Although politicians there pushed for a probe, officials ultimately concluded that it would be a waste of time.

See here for the background. The Harris County District Clerk has released scans of the indictments – the “tampering with a government document” indictments are here, and the “knowingly offer to buy human body parts” indictment is here; this Trib story adds some details. Basically, the two CMP clowns presented fake California drivers’ licenses to the Planned Parenthood people they interacted with, and they did this for the purpose of proving to them that they were not on PP’s internal list of known bad guys. That’s “intent to defraud and harm another”, which is what made this more serious than your average underage kid showing fake ID to get into a bar. I’m sure their defense attorneys will vigorously contest the indictments – this Trib story suggests they will claim a First Amendment justification for creating the fake IDs – and it’s certainly possible they’ll succeed, but that’s what the charges are about.

Again, the larger point is that the practices that these liars accused Planned Parenthood of engaging in – selling fetal tissue for profit – has been investigated coast to coast by nearly two dozen different state entities, and every single one of them has concluded that those claims are false. A normal person, one with a modicum of honesty and integrity, might reasonably conclude that the weight of the evidence so far more than exonerates Planned Parenthood. A dishonest person who lacks any integrity will keep trying to prove that the lies are true.

The Harris County investigation was one of several that began in the state after the center released footage of a Houston clinic executive casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue, which Republican state officials said was proof the organization was making a profit.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party firebrand from Houston, was the first to call for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. He also directed a state Senate committee to conduct its own probe.

On Monday, Patrick issued a statement saying the Senate probe would continue because “the horrific nature of these videos demand scrutiny and investigation.”

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who also ordered their own investigations, released statements saying they would continue.

“The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry,” Paxton said.

You guys are going to have to clap harder than that. Tinker Bell will never get better unless you really, really mean it. What I believe is that while one can win transient battles based on lies, sooner or later it falls apart and the truth comes out. When that happens, there is a price to be paid. I look forward to seeing the tab for this one. BOR, the Trib, Vox, RH Reality Check, Dan Solomon, TPM, Lisa Falkenberg, and Andrea Grimes, who has a decidedly more pessimistic take than I do, have more.

UPDATE: Another Chron story, noting that 1) a lot of damage has already been done to Planned Parenthood, and 2) the fanatical opponents aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, DA Devon Anderson is probably happy all this happened after the filing deadline for the primaries, and Dahlia Lithwick weighs in.

Grand jury indicts Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Sweet.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Harris County grand jury investigating allegations that a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston illegally sold the tissue of aborted fetuses has cleared the organization of wrongdoing and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists behind the undercover videos that sparked the probe.

Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the surprising indictments Monday after a two-month investigation.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

The probe began after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group run by Daleiden, released footage of the Houston clinic as part of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for scientific research. That prompted allegations that the organization was profiting off of tissue — an allegation that was never proven — and sparked calls for an investigation from Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.

[…]

A spokeswoman for the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood said the news made the organization feel “vindicated.”

“It’s great news because it demonstrates what we have said from the very beginning, which is that Planned Parenthood is following every rule and regulation, and that these people came into our buildings under the guise of health when their true intentions were to spread lies,” said the spokeswoman, Rochelle Tafolla. “We’re glad that these extremists have been indicted for breaking the law.”

See here for the background. The irony in this is so thick one might choke on it. Greg Abbott made a feeble statement noting that the state was still investigating Planned Parenthood to find some pretext for justifying its decision to completely boot it off Medicaid, but that’s all been a load of hot air. The national office of Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against these CMP idiots and their fraudulent shenanigans, and a separate federal lawsuit against the state of Texas for acting on their lies. I’m thinking both of those cases just got a solid boost. A statement from Sen. Sylvia Garcia on the indictments is here – it sure would be nice to hear from the idiot Texas Monthly columnist who fell for the CMP video hook, line, and sinker as well – and TPM, the Trib, Daily Kos, Think Progress, Trail Blazers, the Current, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Press have more.

Planned Parenthood sues over those anti-abortion sting videos

Game on, indeed.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood is suing the people behind the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion group that released a series of misleading videos this summer claiming that the women’s health organization sells fetal tissue for profit.

“The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable.”

The lawsuit, announced to reporters Thursday afternoon, might seem a little late, given that the first tapes were released about six months ago and the provider has taken a lot of heat since then. But it took time to do a full investigation into the “complex conspiracy” behind the videos, Laguens told reporters. “We wanted to make sure we had every bit of it right.”

Planned Parenthood isn’t pulling any punches with this lawsuit. The organization is calling CMP a “criminal enterprise” and is suing under federal racketeering law (which has been used once before against anti-abortion protesters but ultimately failed at the Supreme Court). Planned Parenthood is also suing for other damages and bringing a civil action for CMP’s alleged violations of state criminal codes about secret recordings.

The organization says that CMP and its officers engaged in an elaborate three-year criminal conspiracy to mislead Planned Parenthood and public officials, breaking both federal and state laws (in Maryland, Florida, and California, where the suit was filed) in the process.

[…]

It’s worth noting that no state or federal investigations thus far, even those led by anti-abortion officials like Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, have found evidence that Daleiden’s claims about “profit” are true.

Yes, that is worth noting. It’s also worth noting that the state of Texas used the pretext that these videos were truthful to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid – to be more accurate, it blustered about it without ever producing any evidence of malfeasance on Planned Parenthood’s part. There’s another lawsuit related to that, and a separate federal lawsuit filed against the CMP last year, which was narrower in scope. Somebody’s been lying all along, and one way or another the courts will sort that out. You can see a copy of the lawsuit here, and ThinkProgress, RH Reality Check, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: More from the Press.

State cuts off funds to Planned Parenthood for HIV testing

Seriously?

Right there with them

Right there with them

Amid an ongoing battle over Planned Parenthood’s participation in the state Medicaid program, Texas health officials are cutting off funding to a Planned Parenthood affiliate for an HIV prevention program.

In a notice received by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast late Monday, an official with the Department of State Health Services informed the Houston-based provider that it would not renew its contract for HIV prevention services.

The long-standing grant, which funds HIV testing and prevention services, was set to expire on Dec. 31, according to the notice which was obtained by the Texas Tribune.

“There will be no further renewals of this contract,” a DSHS official wrote in the notice to Planned Parenthood.

The contract is federally funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but managed by the state. A spokeswoman for the CDC said she was unaware of the state’s notice and did not immediately provide comment.

By ending Planned Parenthood’s contract, the state is cutting off almost $600,000 in annual funding, which the health care provider used for HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution and referral consultations.

Incredible. At least with the cutoff of Women’s Health Program funds, the state made some arrangements for alternate options. It was half-assed and still caused a huge unnecessary upheaval for thousands of women, but there was at least a token gesture towards maintaining the service. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, or at least the flunkies at the HHSC had no comment at the time the story was published. Unless PPGC decides to continue this on its own dime, this service just goes away. Because why would Greg Abbott care about people who might have HIV? And remember, the root of all this is a pack of lies that the state is hoping you’ll all forget.

The Chron story on this is here. I don’t know if this action can be wrapped into the ongoing litigation over the state cutting off Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood, but regardless perhaps some political pressure can be applied.

Texas Democrats in Congress sent a letter to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services this month asking that they “explore all options available at the federal level” to stop the State of Texas from blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding for health services.

[…]

“Members of the delegation understand that there is a precedent for intervention, and several options available for the federal government to bring Texas into compliance with federal law,” said Congressman Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. “In the past, CMS has decreased or removed federal funding from Texas, which we do not want to happen again as doing so would decrease access to care instead of expanding it.”

Click over to see the letter, which was signed by ten members of the Texas Congressional delegation. The Observer and the Press have more.

The state was full of it all along on Planned Parenthood

Shocked, shocked I am.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Almost two months after Texas Republican leaders announced they would kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, it hasn’t happened.

The organization is still receiving federal and state funds to provide health care for about 13,500 low-income women a year, and the state officials who called for a cutoff, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have fallen silent on why the funding continues.

But the state’s hesitance to pull the trigger reflects a recent pattern in its dealings with an organization that is a lightning rod for any political debate that even remotely touches on abortion. Repeatedly, raising claims of fraud or wrongdoing, conservative Texas politicians have vowed to fine or punish the organization.

And repeatedly, when the smoke cleared there was no fire.

[…]

On Oct. 21, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas received a “notice of termination” from the state Health and Human Services Commission announcing it was axing the organization’s Medicaid contract, citing the videos and unspecified allegations of Medicaid fraud.

The agency’s inspector general, the letter said, had “reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices” that would disqualify Planned Parenthood from participating in Medicaid.

The commission’s chief fraud investigator, Stuart Bowen, gave Planned Parenthood 30 days to respond and request an “informal resolution meeting” with health commission attorneys. If it didn’t, the state said it would issue a “final notice of termination” formally booting Planned Parenthood from Medicaid — an order that would go into effect 15 days after the organization received it.

Worried they would be cut from the Medicaid program as early as Dec. 8, Planned Parenthood affiliates in November filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block Texas’ efforts. In it, Planned Parenthood argued that terminating its Medicaid contract would prevent low-income women, including 10 unnamed patients that signed on to the case, from obtaining services from a “qualified, willing provider” as required by law.

But when U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks considered the organization’s request for a restraining order on Dec. 8, a curious fact emerged. Despite its claims that it had proof of misconduct, state health officials never delivered the final legal notice to defund the organization.

Lacking a final notice of termination, Sparks canceled the hearing.

“Planned Parenthood has not received official notice from the state for termination of our health centers’ continued participation in Medicaid so our court case is delayed,” said Sarah Wheat, a vice president for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

The state’s efforts to nix the Medicaid dollars have been “political from the start,” Wheat said.

[…]

In a previous interview with the Tribune, Bowen emphasized that the “notice of termination” sent to Planned Parenthood in October was the start of a civil enforcement process — not a final determination of the organization’s status as a Medicaid provider.

“We did not terminate them,” he said. “We began a process … inclusive of the development of evidence.”

Bowen’s explanation appeared at odds with the wording of the notice sent to Planned Parenthood and public statements made by Abbott and other top state officials indicating that Planned Parenthood would indeed be ousted from the program.

It remains unclear why Planned Parenthood has yet to receive the final notice, and the Office of Inspector General has declined to provide any details about its investigation into the organization.

It’s not unclear at all. Sarah Wheat explained it quite succinctly and sufficiently. But Abbott and his ilk got what they wanted, even if they won’t get what they promised. The people they were really speaking to, including a few shamefully gullible “journalists”, heard what they wanted to hear. Truthfulness wasn’t a factor, all they wanted was the rah rah. It’s up to the rest of us to remember that.

The Mexican abortion option, part 3

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Misoprostol

Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texans have attempted to terminate their pregnancies without medical assistance, according to new research released Tuesday. Based on interviews and a statewide survey, the unprecedented study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) estimates that between 1.7 and 4.1 percent of Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have attempted to end their own pregnancies outside of a clinical setting.

According to TxPEP’s interviews with Texans who’ve attempted self-induction, the top four reasons they tried to end their pregnancies on their own fall into four categories: financial constraints for the cost of the procedure or travel to the nearest clinic, clinic closures, recommendation from a family member or friend, or an intention to avoid shame or stigma of going to an abortion clinic, especially if they had had an abortion before.

“I didn’t have any money to go to San Antonio or Corpus,” one woman living in the lower Rio Grande Valley told researchers. “I didn’t even have any money to get across town. Like I was just dirt broke. I was poor.”

The study also found that Latina women living near the Texas-Mexico border are more likely to have attempted to induce their own abortions, or know someone who has, than non-Latina Texans.

[…]

Researchers believe the likelihood of self-induced abortion in Texas is higher than elsewhere. According to a 2008 national study by the Guttmacher Institute, less than 2 percent of American women reported taking something to terminate their pregnancies on their own. In 2012, TxPEP conducted a survey of Texans seeking abortions and found that 7 percent of women interviewed spoke to reported taking something to induce their own abortion.

Lead TxPEP researcher Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at San Francisco, warned that clinic closures after HB 2 may lead to an increase in self-inductions.

“This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB 2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk,” Grossman said in a press release. “As clinic-based care becomes harder to access in Texas, we can expect more women to feel that they have no other option and take matters into their own hands.”

The most common method women reported using to induce their own abortion was a medication called misoprostol, also called by its brand name, Cytotec.

Spoiler alert: we have heard this before. I have often heard it said that trying to ban or regulate something – guns, drugs, gambling, what have you – doesn’t work and can’t work because people will still want those things, so the net effect is to push the activity in question underground and thus make it more dangerous for everyone involved. Funny how that never seems to be applied to abortions, especially by those who so piously intone that they’re just making them safer because they care so much about women’s health. Thankfully, at least some federal judges have been willing to point out the dangerous absurdity of the recent spate of anti-abortion laws; whether SCOTUS follows suit or not remains to be seen. The AusChron, the Press, and ThinkProgress have more.

Planned Parenthood sues Texas

Here we go.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood’s Texas affiliates on Monday filed a federal lawsuit to keep state health officials from booting them from the state’s Medicaid program.

Following Texas’ announcement in October that it would stop funding any care for poor women at Planned Parenthood clinics — a response to what state officials called “acts of misconduct” revealed in undercover anti-abortion videos — the women’s health organization is asking the courts for a reprieve.

Ten patients joined Planned Parenthood in the lawsuit, according to the organization. One of those is Kendra Hudson of Houston, who said a pap smear she got at a Planned Parenthood clinic allowed her to identify an abnormal growth and prevent it from developing into cancer.

“They were the provider that I trusted and felt comfortable with,” Hudson told reporters on Monday. By cutting off Medicaid funding to the women’s health organization, Planned Parenthood argues that thousands of other women could lose access to similar services they couldn’t get elsewhere.

The state’s move wouldn’t just end state funding for Planned Parenthood services like pregnancy tests, contraception and cancer screenings. It would also end the allocation of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood through Medicaid, the joint state-federal insurer of last resort that is administered by Texas. In 2015, Texas spent $310,000 of its own money on the women’s health organization while distributing $2.8 million in federal dollars.

[…]

The legal challenge in Texas is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed across the country over how Medicaid dollars are disbursed to Planned Parenthood clinics. Texas’ move comes weeks after a federal district court in Louisiana temporarily halted similar efforts there until the courts could better examine the issue. Other lawsuits are also making their way through the courts in Alabama and Arkansas.

Federal health officials notified the Texas Health and Human Services Commission late last month that kicking Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid could be a violation of U.S. law.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. The Observer adds a few details:

Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups have long claimed that other providers would be able to fill the void left by any Planned Parenthood ouster. Not so, said Dr. Hal Lawrence, CEO at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, during a press call announcing the lawsuit.

In fact, he said, it’d be “next to impossible” for non-Planned Parenthood providers to provide the same volume and quality of care. “It’s very difficult in many states to get Medicaid patients in to see other providers, schedules are already full,” Lawrence told reporters.

Planned Parenthood officials, who were given 30 days to respond to the Texas health commission’s Medicaid termination, said Monday that they are bypassing the commission’s appeals process in favor of filing their lawsuit. But attorneys did say that Planned Parenthood is complying with the inspector general’s requests for thousands of pages of billing and patient documents and subpoenas issued days after the termination letters.

One irony of all this is that one of the often-proffered reasons for not expanding Medicaid is that there aren’t enough doctors in the state who are willing to take new Medicaid patients. So of course kicking out a big Medicaid provider and forcing all its patients onto the mercies of the open market for doctors who will take them makes all kinds of sense.

I presume we all know how this is going to go: Planned Parenthood will win at the district court level, the ruling will be overturned on dubious grounds by a couple of the worse judges on the Fifth Circuit, and then we all get to sweat out another appeal to SCOTUS. Lather, rinse, repeat. In the meantime, this may speed up the timeline for the HHSC Inspector General to produce whatever report he’s going to produce on the claims that PP has been fraudulently billing Medicaid, the investigation of which was spurred by those latest ridiculous “sting” videos. Round and round she goes. Trail Blazers, the Statesman, the Chron, the AusChron, the Press, the Current, Daily Kos, and ThinkProgress have more.

Feds warn Texas about Planned Parenthood

We’ll see what happens.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The Obama administration has warned state officials that pushing Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program could put Texas at odds with federal law.

Officials with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services contacted the state Medicaid director on Tuesday to give notice that removing Planned Parenthood from the program “may be in conflict with federal law” because poor women who obtain family planning services through Medicaid would be limited from receiving health care from the qualified provider of their choice.

“Longstanding Medicaid law prohibits states from restricting individuals with Medicaid coverage from receiving their care from any qualified provider,” a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services representative said in a statement. “Every year, millions of women benefit from critical preventive services, such as cancer screenings, that Planned Parenthood provides. State efforts to restrict women from using qualified providers puts these important health care services at risk.”

The feds’ intervention comes a week after Texas health officials announced they were working to boot Planned Parenthood from Medicaid, the joint state-federal insurer of the very poor and disabled. This would cut off taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide well-woman care, like cancer screenings, birth control and pregnancy tests. Planned Parenthood clinics that accept Medicaid dollars are already barred from performing abortions.

A spokesman for the Texas Office of Inspector General, which is handling the Planned Parenthood investigation, said state officials on Tuesday “had a very productive call” with the feds about the Medicaid announcement.

“Some concerns were voiced, and the state was able to responsively address them,” said OIG spokesman Chris Cutrone.

See here and here for some background. Hard to know what to make of this. Stuart Bowen recently dropped hints about a whistleblower being the basis of the state’s actions, which could be something or could be more smoke. At the same time this was happening, US Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was taking a conciliatory tone about the state expanding Medicaid, which may have played into that “very productive call” or may be completely separate. I personally think the feds should continue to play on this, but I suppose someone has to be the good cop. Meanwhile, another state that has tried to follow the same path that Texas is taking lost in court, as a federal judge blocked efforts in Alabama to kick Planned Parenthood affiliates out of the state Medicaid program. Until the state puts its cards on the table, who can say what if any actual evidence they’ve got?

What you can say is this.

“Everyone is entitled to due process under the law. As a former judge, I recognize this is the first step in a lengthy process and will respect that process as it moves forward.”

—Gov. Greg Abbott

The quote is Abbott’s response to the criminal indictment accusing Attorney General Ken Paxton of having deceived investors, some of whom lost tens of thousands of dollars they risked because they trusted him. Abbott of all people should know about due process, having served as attorney general for 13 years in addition to having been a Texas Supreme Court justice.

But Abbott had no qualms about abandoning his ethical-lawyer respect for due process when it came to the current case the state has trumped up against Planned Parenthood. The state moved last week to end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding based on the propagandic video snippets that have been making the rounds nationwide from anti-Planned Parenthood zealots purporting to show illegal deal-making for aborted fetal tissue.

Abbott declared Planned Parenthood guilty without benefit of an investigation, much less a trial. “The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” he said in a statement from his office issued under the headline “Texas eliminates taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood providers.” See how the sentencing in this case appears to precede all else?

[…]

This foray against Planned Parenthood is a staged event to disrupt an organization whose Medicaid reimbursements primarily are for basic health services to low-income patients, including cancer screenings and testing for socially transmitted diseases. That is a wrong thing to interrupt just to make a political show of opposing abortion.

An objective review of the state’s actions and Abbott’s utterances against Planned Parenthood by a high-ranking law school would be interesting to see. We fear that Texas wouldn’t come off any better than the government of Iran. We wish that weren’t hyperbole.

Well, at some point we’ll get an objective review by a judge, and that will tell us a lot. The Chron and BOR have more.

State goes fishing against Planned Parenthood

Here we go.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Days after Texas health officials announced they want to kick Planned Parenthood out of the state Medicaid program, state investigators on Thursday visited Planned Parenthood facilities in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.

Investigators with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s investigative arm delivered requests to Planned Parenthood facilities in all three cities asking for Medicaid records, billing information and personnel information, according to Planned Parenthood officials. A request delivered to a Dallas facility included request for files from clinics in Austin and Waco.

State health officials would not confirm details about investigators’ visits. A spokesman for the health commission’s Office of Inspector General said he could not “provide comment on any oversight or investigative activities.”

[…]

Planned Parenthood officials said in a statement that Thursday’s visits by state investigators were “political grandstanding” by the state’s Republican leadership, particularly Gov. Greg Abbott, who had previously called for cutting off all taxpayer dollars the organization received.

“Representatives from the Texas Office of Inspector General showed up at Planned Parenthood health centers in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio looking for an excuse to take health care away from thousands of women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for preventive care,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of the organization’s state political arm Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “But what they will see is professional, compassionate and quality health care. Despite their efforts to distort the truth, health care — no matter what — is what happens at Planned Parenthood.”

In a statement earlier this week praising the move to cut off the funding for Planned Parenthood, Abbott said, “Texas has stepped forward and shown its unyielding commitment to both protecting life and providing women’s health services.”

Among the documents investigators are requesting are Medicaid records dating back to 2010. At Planned Parenthood’s facility in Spring, Texas, which does not perform abortions, state investigators are requesting records related to specific services provided to Medicaid patients, employee information and appointment books, according to a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune.

See here for the background and here for a copy of the letters. I’m going to let Dave Mann, who goes through the details of the latest attack on Planned Parenthood point by point, sum this up:

4. Based on what we know, the state’s case seems a little thin.

This one comes with a major caveat: We don’t know exactly what evidence the state possesses. The letters reference “reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices by Planned Parenthood affiliates across the State.” And that may well be. If state officials have uncovered evidence of widespread Medicaid fraud at Planned Parenthood clinics, then Texas may well succeed in cutting the organizations out of the program—and deservedly so.

But the specifics offered by the state so far don’t exactly blow you away. In their letters to Planned Parenthood, Texas officials contend that the organization is “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner.”

The allegations center on Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC), based in Houston, just one of the major Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state. (There are no specific allegations in the letters against other groups, such as Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which serves D-FW, Austin and Waco, or Planned Parenthood South Texas. They’re apparently guilty by association.)

The state contends that PPGC has engaged in Medicaid fraud. These allegations largely stem from a 2009 whistleblower suit by a former clinic worker who accused PPGC of fraudulent billing. PPGC settled the case in 2013, though admitted no wrongdoing. The Texas Attorney General’s office—headed at the time by one Greg Abbott—announced that the case was closed.

So the state’s argument—at least as laid out in the letters of termination—is based on six-year-old allegations against one Planned Parenthood affiliate—a case the Texas AG’s office closed more than two years ago. That seems kind of thin.

Is that enough to convince federal health officials or a federal court that a major provider of health services to thousands of Texas women should be booted from Medicaid? State officials seemingly will have a tough time winning that argument— unless they’ve obtained some new, damning evidence of widespread fraud by Planned Parenthood. In other words, the fate of Planned Parenthood in Medicaid will be decided on the merits, not the politics.

So the question is, are they looking for corroboration of evidence they already have or reliably believe they will find, or is this an example of “we know there are weapons of mass destruction in there somewhere and we’ll find them if we just look hard enough”? I have a hard time believing it’s not the latter, but we’ll find out soon enough when the state is forced to put up or shut up. The Statesman, the Observer, Juanita, the Current, Wonkblog, and Trail Blazers have more.

Texas vs Planned Parenthood, part one million

This was going to happen sooner or later.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Texas health officials say they are kicking Planned Parenthood out of the state Medicaid program entirely over what they called “acts of misconduct” revealed in undercover videos filmed earlier this year.

Republican state leaders, who vehemently oppose abortion, have worked for years to curb taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood — despite the fact that its clinics may not receive such funding if they perform the procedure.

Monday’s decision means even Planned Parenthood clinics that only provide well-woman care, like cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and birth control, will also be cut out of receiving dollars from Medicaid, the joint state-federal insurer of the poor.

The vast majority of Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas comes from the federal government. Texas spent just $310,000 from its own coffers on the women’s health organization in 2015, but it also dispersed $2.8 million in federal dollars to those clinics. A spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[…]

On Monday, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s inspector general, Stuart Bowen, wrote to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast that the women’s health provider had violated state Medicaid rules and put Texans at risk of infection. Citing the sting videos, Bowen said Planned Parenthood officials disregarded federal law by agreeing to change the timing or method of abortions in order to procure fetal tissue for medical research.

As a result, the state will no longer allow any Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas to receive Medicaid funding. Last year, Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas received $3.05 million in federal funds through Medicaid for family planning services like birth control and pregnancy tests.

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla described the state’s efforts to block Medicaid patients from receiving care from any of the organization’s clinics as “politically motivated.” Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast does not currently participate in fetal tissue donation, the organization says, but did in 2010, in conjunction with a University of Texas Medical Branch study on miscarriage.

“Tens of thousands of women are already going without care after years of policies aimed at blocking access to care at Planned Parenthood,” Tafolla said. “Now Texas politicians are using a thoroughly discredited, bogus attack against Planned Parenthood as a shameful excuse to attack Texas women’s health yet again.”

This has been the end goal for Texas Republicans for several years now, so like I said, no surprise, and one excuse is as good as another. I would point out that multiple states have investigated these videos and found nothing – Texas, as well as Harris County, is doing its own investigation, and one presumes they have nothing worthwhile to show for it as yet. As such, this may be their consolation prize, since coming away empty-handed was not an option. What comes next is almost certainly a lawsuit, since Texas doesn’t exactly have the authority to do this. If they could have, they would have done this much earlier than this. In the meantime, still more women will lose their access to healthcare. That’s the reality we unfortunately live in, and much as I hate to say it, nothing will change until our state leadership does. BOR, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Harris County DA to investigate Planned Parenthood clinic here

I haven’t spent any time writing about the misleading attack videos on Planned Parenthood being put out by yet another shadowy anti-abortion group, so let me dispense with this.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Wednesday her office has begun a criminal investigation into the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood after the release earlier this week of a video showing an agency executive discussing the preservation of organs of aborted fetuses.

Anderson, who described the video as being “disturbing,” said she has reviewed it, as have prosecutors and investigators in her office.

The video was the fifth to be released by the California-based Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group whose activists in April secretly recorded Melissa Farrell with the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She discusses how to preserve aborted fetuses for research purposes as well as the different types, methods and costs of fetal tissue harvesting. The videos are part of the group’s campaign to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue to scientists.

Anderson said the first step in the investigation process is to obtain the complete, unedited video to make sure they know the context of all of Farrell’s statements. She said an investigation is “warranted at this time,” but added it is “premature” to say what crimes, if any, the branch has committed.

“We won’t know until our investigation is complete,” Anderson said. “So for that reason I will not speculate on which laws have been violated or any possible resulting sentences. Our investigation could reveal state as well as federal law violations, or no violations at all.”

Go ahead and investigate away. As was the case with the state of Indiana, I seriously doubt there will be anything to find. That’s what one should expect when a group of fundamentally dishonest people with ties to violent extremists engage in a dishonest campaign to elicit a political reaction. They got their reaction, but that doesn’t mean anyone should trust a word they say. I fully expect the investigation here to come up empty as well. On the plus side, KUHF notes that Anderson “will also look for evidence of any laws being broken by the anti-abortion group”, so maybe something positive will come out of this. That would be ironic, and richly deserved if it happens. My money is still on this being quietly dropped as a nothingburger, though.

Off to SCOTUS for HB2

If they want to hear it.

Abortion is back before the U.S.A Supreme Court, and the justices could signal by the end of June whether they are likely to take up the biggest case on the contentious subject in nearly a quarter-century.

If the court steps in, the hearing and the eventual ruling would come amid the 2016 presidential campaign.

The court is considering an emergency appeal from abortion providers in Texas, who want the justices to block two provisions of a state law that already has forced the closure of roughly half the licensed abortion clinics in the state. Ten of the remaining 19 clinics will have to shut their doors by July 1, without an order from the Supreme Court.

[…]

The case could be attractive to the justices because it might allow them to give more definition to the key phrase from their last big abortion ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992. States generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places “an undue burden” on a woman’s right to get an abortion.

“Courts have been fumbling for years about what does it mean to be undue under Casey,” said Priscilla Smith, a Yale Law School professor and defender of abortion rights.

Some abortion opponents also see the case as a strong candidate for Supreme Court review. “The likelihood of this case getting to the Supreme Court is very high and I think that’s a good thing,” said Mike Norton, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian-oriented public interest law firm.

The justices blocked the two provisions once before, in November 2014 while the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was weighing whether those parts of the law violate a woman’s right to an abortion. The appeals court upheld the provisions on June 9 and has since refused to put its ruling on hold while the clinics ready their appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 2013, four justices — enough to hear an appeal — said the high court probably would want to weigh in. In an earlier phase of the same case, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the court probably would take up the controversial provisions.

Since then, a different set of judges from the same appeals court has prevented Mississippi from enforcing its own admitting privileges requirement because doing so would close the last abortion clinic in the state. In that case, the court said that Mississippi could not force women to cross state lines to get an abortion.

See here for the background. It’s either SCOTUS, with all the risk that entails, or the status quo. Not much of a choice, but here we are. We’ll know soon enough what they choose to do.

Let the budgetary games begin

The House takes up the budget today, with over 300 amendments and riders queued up for votes. A couple of things to watch for as the debate goes on:

Killing vouchers.

BagOfMoney

Lawmakers in the Texas House will have a chance to draw a line in the sand over private school vouchers during the upcoming battle over the budget Tuesday.

An amendment filed by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, would ban the use of state dollars to fund private education for students in elementary through high schools, including through so-called tax credit scholarships.

If passed, the measure — one of more than 350 budget amendments covering topics from border security to abortion up for House consideration — would deliver a blow to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

[…]

If Herrero’s amendment fails, it would represent a dramatic change in sentiment for the chamber, which overwhelmingly passed a similar budget amendment during the 2013 legislative session. Patrick, a Houston Republican who served as state senator before taking office as lieutenant governor in January, led that chamber’s education panel at the time.

Rep. Herrero’s amendment from 2013 passed by a 103-43 vote. Neither Speaker Straus nor Public Ed Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock is any more pro-voucher than they were last year, and neither is Dan Patrick any more beloved, so you have to feel pretty good about the chances this time, though it’s best not to count your amendments till they pass. If it does, that won’t fully drive a stake through vouchers’ cold, greedy heart for the session, but it’ll be a solid blow against them.

“Alternatives To Abortion”

As the Texas House prepares for a floor fight Tuesday over its budget, a flurry of amendments filed by Democrats seeks to defund the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program.

A group of Democratic lawmakers filed more than a dozen amendments to either reduce or eliminate funding for the program, which provides “pregnancy and parenting information” to low-income women. Under the program, the state contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit charity organization with a network of crisis pregnancy resource centers that provide counseling and adoption assistance.

Since September 2006, the program has served roughly 110,000 clients. The network features 60 provider locations, including crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said she filed an amendment to defund the entire program because the state is giving more money to “coerce women” into a “political ideology instead of providing information and services” at a time when Texas women’s access to health services is being reduced.

The proposed House budget allocates $9.15 million a year to the program in 2016 and 2017 — up from $5.15 million in the last budget.

“I think it’s troublesome that here we are going to almost double funding for a program that has not proven to be successful in any way,” said Farrar, chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus in the House. An additional amendment by Farrar would require an audit of the program.

Several House Democrats filed similar amendments, including Borris Miles of Houston, Celia Israel of Austin and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, whose amendments would transfer more than $8 million from the Alternatives to Abortion program to family planning services and programs for people with disabilities.

“These facilities have very little regulation, no accountability and no requirement to offer actual medical services,” Turner said, adding that funding could be used for other medical programs. “My amendments are an attempt to address our state’s real priorities and needs.”

Two Republicans, meanwhile, filed measures to boost the program’s funding.

I don’t expect Dems to win this fight, but it’s a fight worth having.

Other women’s health funding issues

The state currently administers three similar women’s health programs that cover things like annual well woman exams, birth control and cancer screenings for low-income women.

The newest program, the Expanded Primary Health Care Program, created in 2013, is slated to get the funding bump, bringing the total for women’s health services in the House version of the budget to about $130 million per year.

Here is the breakdown of funding for each program:

  • Texas Women’s Health Program: $34.9 million in 2016, $35.1 million in 2017
  • Expanded Primary Health Care Program: $73.4 million in 2016, $73.4 million in 2017
  • Family planning program administered by Department of State Health Services: $21.4 million in 2016, $21.4 million in 2017

In 2011, motivated by a never-ending quest to defund Planned Parenthood, the Texas Legislature slashed family planning funding by nearly $70 million, leaving about $40 million for preventive and contraceptive services for low-income women. A recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a research group that studies the effects of family planning budget cuts, found that more than 100,000 women lost services after the 2011 cuts and 82 family planning clinics closed. In 2013, the Legislature restored the $70 million and put it into the newly created Expanded Primary Health Care Program, which became a separate item in the state budget. Still, advocates and providers have consistently fought for more money, arguing that the state is only serving one-third of women eligible to receive services.

[…]

Here is a list of other women’s health amendments and riders to watch for:

  • State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) filed an amendment that would allow teenagers who are 15 to 17 years old and already mothers to get contraception without their parents’ consent. Right now, state law requires that all teenagers under the age of 18 get their parent’s permission for birth control. The amendment mirrors Gonzalez’s House Bill 468, which she presented to the House State Affairs Committee in mid-March.
  • State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) has proposed a rider that would ensure sex education programs teach “medically accurate” information to public school students.
  • State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) proposes adding even more money to the Alternatives to Abortion program by taking almost $7 million from the Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • A House budget rider by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) protects the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured women, under attack this session by conservative lawmakers hell bent on, you guessed it, defunding Planned Parenthood.

Some possible winners in there – in a decent world, Rep. Gonzalez’s bill would be a no-brainer – but again, fights worth having. Rep. Sarah Davis has received some liberal adulation this session for trying to do good on women’s health issues. That budget rider will be a test of whether she can actually move some of her colleagues or not.

Public education

An amendment by the House’s lead budget writer, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto would allocate $800 million more to certain public schools as part of a plan announced last week to diminish the inequities that exist among districts under the current funding scheme.

[…]

At the news conference Monday, Austin state Rep. Donna Howard said at least 20 percent of public schools still will receive less per-student funding than they did in 2011 under the proposal. That year, state lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education, restoring about $3.4 billion two years later.

“We aren’t keeping up as it is,” Howard said.

She also noted the plan also does not include the $130 million that had been earmarked for a bill containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to bolster pre-K programs — an amount she described as insufficient considering it does fully restore funding to a pre-K grant program gutted in 2011.

Howard has filed a budget amendment that would allocate $300 million for pre-K.

Pre-K is one of Greg Abbott’s priorities this session, but his proposal is small ball. Rep. Howard’s amendment has a chance, but we’ll see if Abbott’s office gets involved.

And finally, same sex benefits, because of course there is.

Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) is again trying to bar Texas school districts from offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

Springer has introduced a budget amendment that would eliminate state funding for districts that violate the Texas Constitution, which prohibits recognition of same-sex partnerships.

The amendment is similar to a bill Springer authored two years ago, which cleared committee but was never considered on the floor. Under Springer’s budget amendment, the education commissioner, in consultation with the attorney general, would decide whether districts have violated the Constitution. Districts would have 60 days to correct the problem.

According to Equality Texas, Springer’s amendment is aimed at the Austin, Pflugerville and San Antonio school districts, which offer “plus-one” benefits that are inclusive of same-sex partners. But the group says those benefits are in line with a 2013 opinion from former Attorney General Greg Abbott, which found that such programs are only illegal if they create or recognize a status similar to marriage.

Yes, as noted, Rep. Springer has tried to meddle in this area before. I admit, I’m more worried about a budget amendment this year than a bill in 2013. Keep a close eye on that one.

State-run Women’s Health Program continues to be a failure

Quelle surprise.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Thousands fewer women are getting health services through the now state-run Women’s Health Program after Planned Parenthood was barred from being a provider.

A report released Monday by the state Health and Human Services Commission showed that almost 30,000 fewer women were served through the program in 2013 than in 2011, and 63,581 fewer claims were filed for birth control.

The program became fully state-funded in 2013 after lawmakers voted to prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to abortion providers or their affiliates. Planned Parenthood served about 40 percent of the women in the program before it was excluded for being affiliated with separate, privately funded abortion clinics.

Texas lost federal matching money that kicked in $9 for every one dollar the state spent, now costing the state about $36 million annually.

The program provides well woman’s exams, cancer screenings, contraception and tests for sexually transmitted diseases and infections to low-income women between the ages of 18 and 44.

“These numbers are so distressing and I think it shows Texas moving backwards pretty quickly,” said Sarah Wheat, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

Several Planned Parenthood family planning clinics closed after they lost funding. The report showed that the areas with the highest drops in the number of women served by the program occurred in areas where Planned Parenthood clinics shuttered.

I’ve blogged about this plenty – see here and here for a couple of examples – and by this point it should be clear to everyone that this is a feature, not a bug. The Republicans who did this were told, repeatedly and in detail, exactly what would happen when the cut the funding, gave up the federal match, and kneecapped Planned Parenthood. They went ahead and did it anyway, for the basest of political reasons. And after last year’s elections, who can blame them? It’s not like anyone has been held accountable for it. They should have the courage of their convictions and embrace studies like this with pride. It’s what they wanted to do, and they’ve been hugely successful at it. Newsdesk and the Observer have more.

The cost of unplanned pregnancies

From Wonkblog:

UnplannedPregnanciesMap1

Unintended pregnancies cost American taxpayers $21 billion each year, according to a new analysis released by the Guttmacher Institute. That averages out to a cost of about $366 per every woman of childbearing age in the U.S. Overall, more than half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, and roughly 1-in-20 American women of reproductive age have an unplanned pregnancy each year.

Nationally there were 1.5 million unplanned births in 2010. Public insurance programs like Medicaid paid for 68 percent of those births. “On average, a publicly funded birth cost $12,770 in prenatal care, labor and delivery, postpartum care and the first 12 months of infant care; care for months 13–60 cost, on average, another $7,947, for a total cost per birth of $20,716,” the study found.

Both the rate and cost of unplanned birth vary considerably by state. As a percent of all births, unplanned births ranged from 31.8 percent in New Hampshire to 56.8 percent in Mississippi. Overall, states in New England and on the West coast had the lowest rates of unplanned birth, while Southern states had the highest.

In some states — Georgia, Mississippi and Oklahoma — more than 80 percent of unplanned births were paid for by public dollars. Georgia taxpayers spent nearly $1 billion on unplanned births in 2010, as did taxpayers in Chicago. California spent $1.8 billion, while unplanned births cost the state of Texas nearly $3 billion dollars in 2010.

As you will see if you read the study, those figures represent both federal and state money. The amount of its own funds spent by Texas was $620 million, which is still a lot of money that didn’t need to be spent. The study points out that were it not for state programs that fund contraception and women’s health programs, the cost incurred, nationally and by each state, would have been much higher. These figures are from 2010. What has Texas been doing since then? Yep, cutting funding for contraception and women’s health, partly for pure budgetary reasons, and partly due to an ideological war against Planned Parenthood. I’m betting that the $620 million we spent in 2010 would be at least that much, possibly quite a bit more, in the subsequent years thanks to this shortsighted and harmful policy. So the next time Texas Republicans whine about the cost of Medicaid, it would be nice if some journalist type asked them about their own role in that problem.

There’s an app for birth control

I’m sure this won’t controversial at all.

“Isn’t there an app for that?”

Turns out there is, if what you’re after is birth control or a test for a sexually transmitted infection.

In the latest example of fast-growing “telemedicine,” video conferencing that virtually extends medical expertise, Planned Parenthood is rolling out a pilot project for real-time “office visits” that bring patient and medical provider face to face on a smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

Fueling the Planned Parenthood Care project, under way in Washington and Minnesota, is a “horrible statistic,” says Chris Charbonneau, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest: “People are sexually active for six to nine months before they get a really reliable birth-control method.”

One result: an estimated 52,500 unintended pregnancies in Washington in 2010, according to the state Department of Health.

Combine that with the prevalence of chlamydia, the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S., and gonorrhea — both primarily affecting people ages 15 to 24 — and Planned Parenthood hatched a plan to meet young people where they live: on their phones and mobile devices.

For now, the virtual visits create a streamlined process for getting mail-order birth control — and soon, test kits for two common sexually transmitted infections.

Along with convenience, the virtual visits provide a technological answer to this question, Charbonneau says: “How do we see people who either can’t or have difficulty walking into bricks-and-mortar sites, to at least get them started on birth control” or begin investigating a potential sexually transmitted infection?

The national Planned Parenthood organization chose Washington as one of the first states for the project because of its long history of support for women’s reproductive rights and its strong local chapter, according to the local organization.

Planned Parenthood hopes the project will expand next to Alaska and eventually go nationwide. Obstacles include state laws — and possibly some controversy in the wake of a telemedicine controversy in Iowa.

[…]

Some [anti-abortion] activists also worry that webcam visits, though solely for birth control, may ultimately lead to more abortions.

“We know how these things start,” says Dan Kennedy, CEO of Human Life of Washington. “Who is honestly going to believe that’s as far as it goes?”

I’m sure you can imagine how the “argument” will go from there. I’m posting this partly because it’s a great idea, and partly so we’re all familiar with the background when someone in the Lege inevitably files a bill to ban this. In the name of women’s health, of course. Tech Times has more.

Planned Parenthood comes out swinging

Good to see.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm is embarking on the most aggressive campaign it has ever waged in Texas, with plans to spend $3 million to turn out voters for Democratic candidates including Sens. Wendy Davis for governor and Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

Bolstered by a $1 million donation from a single backer, Planned Parenthood’s latest Texas-based political action fund is sparking concerns among anti-abortion activists who expect to be outgunned financially by the effort that has a particular focus on women voters.

[…]

The new PAC, called Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, is intended to bolster the top of the Democratic ticket, along with a slate of state House candidates and the Democrat running for Davis’ open Senate seat. The group also endorsed Rep. Sarah Davis, the only Republican who voted against last year’s tighter abortion restrictions.

Created just four months ago, the PAC already has more than $1 million cash on hand, mostly through the $1 million donation from Planned Parenthood Chair Cecilia Boone. It’s only the third contribution of that amount recorded by any candidate or PAC this election cycle.

The endeavor will be coordinated with a new Texas-based Planned Parenthood 501c4 group, a tax exempt nonprofit that does not have to disclose contributors.

Planned Parenthood says the nonprofit is set up to handle administrative costs, while the bulk of the spending will be done through its PAC that makes contributors known to the public.

Despite having a long-established presence in Texas, state data shows it’s the first time Planned Parenthood’s political arm has dedicated this type of financial firepower to Texas’ elections.

[…]

Planned Parenthood organizers said they will parlay the PAC money into an aggressive field program to reach more than 300,000 women – including Democrats and Republicans identified as receptive to their message – through phone banks, door-to-door visits and direct mail. The campaign will also include a heavy dose of digital outreach that will include radio ads and online ads, along with social media.

That’s great and exciting and all, but I have to ask: What the hell took so long for someone to figure out this was a good idea? It’s not exactly rocket science, and the bad guys have been doing it for years now. More in the primaries than in November, I admit, but still. How is it that the light bulb never went on before now? And where are the other groups that ought to be doing the same thing? If I don’t see at least one more story like this about a similar organization between now and November, I’m going to be deeply annoyed.

Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant, said Planned Parenthood’s spending can slice two ways for Davis.

On one hand, it will put the abortion spotlight back on Davis and could stymie her messaging as a candidate focused on a broad range of policies. Mackowiak said, however, it can also provide more resources for her campaign, which is at a 3-1 cash disadvantage compared to Abbott, and maybe even provide a bit of cover on the issue.

“The campaign knows that talking about abortion is a net loser for her,” he said. “These outside groups can focus on maximizing the pro-choice vote while Wendy stays above that fray.”

I basically agree with Mackowiak, but not for the reason he has in mind. The issue here for Davis, as I’ve said before, is that there’s precious little she can do as Governor to advance reproductive rights. She can’t undo or roll back HB2, the bill she famously filibustered, she can’t restore funding to family planning services or Planned Parenthood. She can’t even introduce a bill to do any of these things, not that they’d go anywhere if she could. The one thing she can do is be the last line of defense against further assaults on women’s health and reproductive freedom, via the veto pen. Vitally important, to be sure, and something that needs to be said, but talking about defense doesn’t strike me as very inspiring. In my more cynical moments, I suspect that if she did speak more about it, the nattering types that have complained Davis has not talked enough about abortion would complain that she’s focusing on it too much.

Be that as it may, apocalyptic scenarios and desperate appeals to hold the line are exactly the sort of thing that outside groups are made for. They can get as hyperbolic as they want and do whatever they can to scare targeted voters to the ballot box. (Again, the mind boggles that we hadn’t been doing this before now.) In addition, PPVT and any other groups that want to jump in can shill for candidates other than just Wendy Davis as well. Certainly they’d want to push for Leticia Van de Putte, but including Sam Houston and Mike Collier – yes, I know that the Comptroller has little to nothing to do with abortion, but remember that Collier is running against the guy who sponsored HB2 – would also make sense and would be a nice little boost to their campaigns.

So jump in with both feet, PPVT, and invite your friends to jump in with you. There’s plenty of people in Texas to help fund this kind of effort. We need them all to keep some of their money in state and do their part to help the good guys win in November.

The filibuster one year later

It still resonates. And I believe it will continue to resonate for a lot longer.

The thousands of Texans whose screaming protest of anti-abortion legislation brought the Capitol to a standstill June 25 will mark the one-year anniversary much more quietly this week, yielding to the reality of abortion as a political issue in the most scarlet of red states.

The activists say they are as dedicated as ever to defending abortion rights, and Democrats certainly are working to raise money off of the “People’s Filibuster” of House Bill 2, with a commemorative website and an anniversary fundraiser in Austin featuring their nominees for governor and lieutenant governor – state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte – two players in last year’s nationally watched drama.

The strategy illustrates how the anniversary is a double-edged sword for Davis, the filibuster’s face, but also for Van de Putte and the rest of a Democratic Party eager to reignite the passion of last summer but unable to afford to alienate moderates in a state that still opposes abortion.

“At the end of the day, elections are about turning out your base and winning over swing voters,” said Mark Jones, chair of the political science department at Rice University. “The anniversary is going to mobilize the base, but it’s not going to persuade swing voters, and it’s not an issue on which a Democrat is going to win.”

“Effectively,” Jones said, “Davis (and other Democrats) need to walk a tightrope.”

With all due respect, now is not the time to worry about swing voters. Now, and all the way through November, is the time to ensure as many Democratic voters and would-be Democratic voters are fully engaged and involved. I fully agree that Dems will need some number of people to split their vote if we want to have a chance to win one or more statewide elections, but if the base level isn’t high enough it just won’t matter. I mention this to everyone I talk to – only about one half of the people that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 came out to vote for Democrats in 2010. This is a big part of the reason why Bill White is described today as “former Houston Mayor Bill White” and not “Governor Bill White” despite his greatly impressive crossover performance. We can worry about the people who find some or all of the Republican statewide slate scary on a variety of issues but just can’t get past the abortion thing, however many of those people there may be, at a later time. For right now, if we’re not talking to the Presidential-year-only Democratic voters and unregistered people who would vote Democratic if they were registered, we’re doing it wrong.

To be very clear, I’m not dismissing the importance of swing voters. We’re going to need all of them we can get. All I’m saying is let’s not put the cart before the horse. If Dems get the same 1.7 to 1.8 million base vote they’ve been getting for the past three non-Presidential elections, it’s just not going to matter how well Davis or Leticia Van de Putte does among swing voters. There won’t be enough of them to matter.

So the celebrations and commemorations this week are really important. The energy we had one year ago was real and it was incredible. You can’t sustain that level over that long a period of time without burning out, but there’s been a good simmer all along, and you can see it in the work that’s being done by the Davis and Van de Putte and other statewide campaigns and by Battleground Texas and many other grassroots organizations that were there that day and that night. For a fantastic oral history of what all went down at the Capitol that week, go visit Fight Back Texas and read the stories. Remember what happened, feel again what you felt one year ago, attend an event if you can, and then channel that into some kind of outreach. Go find a BGTx phonebank or block walk event and join in. That’s what we need, for the next five months and beyond. Let the pros worry about this demographic or that. Take the time now to talk to our people, and make sure they know what’s at stake.

Planned Parenthood petitions Fifth Circuit for en banc review of HB2 ruling

From the inbox:

Today, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a petition on behalf of their patients to request that the full bench of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals consider the constitutionality of harmful abortion restrictions that were struck down by  a federal district court last fall. On March 27, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the Texas law, making safe and legal abortion virtually impossible for thousands of Texas women to access. Similar laws have been blocked by federal courts in Alabama, Mississippi, and Wisconsin, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last December affirmed a preliminary injunction against enforcement of Wisconsin’s law.

In the petition filed today, Planned Parenthood argues that the three-judge panel’s ruling warrants closer review by the full court because it conflicts with decades of applicable Supreme Court precedent and if allowed to stand would have terrible implications for women’s health and rights.

Statement from Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes Action Fund:

“The three-judge panel’s ruling on March 27  failed the women of Texas, and severely limits a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion in vast regions of the state. This hardship further impacts women who have already lost access to birth control and preventative health care at the hands of a small group of politicians who are trying to impose their beliefs on all Texans.

Planned Parenthood will continue providing services, including abortion, to women across the state and we will work to combat these laws in the state house and the court house. Texas women need leaders who will defend the ability to make decisions about their own reproductive health, and who will protect women’s access to basic health care – including birth control.”

The three-judge panel that ruled on March 27 includes a judge who is openly hostile to Roe v. Wade. The Fifth Circuit has repeatedly upheld laws that impose medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion and take health care away from Texas women in need. In a highly unusual move, last October, it abruptly stayed a lower court’s permanent injunction issued after a three-day trial on the abortion restrictions.  In 2012, it allowed Texas to bar all Planned Parenthood health centers from participating in a preventive health care program. Earlier that year, it upheld an especially cruel and demeaning forced ultrasound law. 

The March 27 ruling upholds a law requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital — a requirement that leading medical associations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) oppose because it harms women’s health and interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, was jointly filed on September 27 on behalf of more than a dozen Texas health care providers and their patients by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Texas law firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton.  In striking down the measure as unconstitutional after a three-day trial, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the admitting privileges requirement has “no rational relationship to improved patient care” and also “places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”  Despite that ruling, a panel of the Fifth Circuit allowed the law to take effect on November 1, 2013, while the case was on appeal and a different panel held it constitutional on March 27.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the Trib story. Needless to say, I expect exactly zero joy out of this, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. The real question is whether or not to press our luck with SCOTUS when the Fifth Circuit rejects this petition.

Another lawsuit against HB2 to be filed

If at first you don’t succeed

Less than a week after a federal court upheld two new Texas abortion requirements already in effect, abortion providers announced plans to file a second lawsuit targeting additional regulations that the Republican-led Legislature passed in July.

The suit that the group plans to file Wednesday in a federal court seeks a court order to block the regulations — which take effect in September — that require abortion facilities to meet the same structural standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

The new abortion regulations have been blamed for the closure of about a dozen abortion clinics in the state, which currently has 24 active abortion clinics. The upcoming lawsuit alleges that unless the remaining clinics rebuild from the ground up and become essentially mini-hospitals, most could shutter. That would leave fewer than 10 facilities.

“There is no question that the politicians who passed this law intended this as the final blow in their assault on women’s constitutional right and ability to safely and legally end a pregnancy in Texas,” said Nancy Northrup, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing several abortion providers in the suit.

Legislators who backed the regulations and abortion opponents said that the rules are intended to protect women’s health and that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest the rules create an undue burden on the majority of Texas women attempting to access abortion.

The upcoming lawsuit will also ask the court to exempt the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, which recently closed because its physicians couldn’t obtain hospital-admitting privileges, and a Reproductive Services clinic in El Paso from a rule that took effect in November. That rule requires physicians to obtain hospital-admitting privileges within 30 miles of an abortion facility. The abortion providers claim that the facilities should be able to continue operating because the clinics are “among the last, if not the only, reproductive health care providers offering safe, legal abortion care in their communities,” according to the group’s press release on the suit.

Can we just cut straight to the part where the Fifth Circuit overturns the district court and allows the law to be implemented as written? Not that I want this to happen, of course, but it’s what I expect at this point, and I can’t take the mood swing any more. Besides, we all know that Edith Jones already has an opinion written, she just needs to fill in a few blanks in her template. Why waste time? Trail Blazers, the Observer, and RH Reality Check have more.

Fifth Circuit does its thing again

There was never any doubt.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld the new abortion regulations that were passed in July by the Republican-led Texas Legislature.

The plaintiffs, who represent the majority of abortion providers in Texas, including four Planned Parenthood affiliates, Whole Woman’s Health and other independent abortion providers, challenged the constitutionality of two requirements that the state implemented Nov. 1: that physicians obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of an abortion facility, and that they follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s protocol for drug-induced abortions, rather than a common, evidence-based protocol.

In a unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel, the court sided with the state, which argued that the rules should be deemed constitutional by the federal court because the state’s objective was to protect women’s health, and that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the rules create an undue burden on the majority of Texas women attempting to access abortion.

The author of the opinion, Chief Justice Edith Jones, wrote that the state’s “articulation of rational legislative objectives, which was backed by evidence placed before the state legislature, easily supplied a connection between the admitting-privileges rule and the desirable protection of abortion patients’ health.”

Jones also authored the 2012 opinion affirming Texas’ abortion sonogram law. The other justices, Jennifer Elrod and Catharina Haynes, served on another three-judge panel that reversed a lower court’s injunction on the law in October, which allowed the rules to take effect.

As I said before, the only question was whether Edith Jones wrote her opinion before or after hearing the arguments. There was never any question how she was going to rule. What happens next isn’t clear yet – the plaintiffs can ask for a ruling from the entire court, for all the good that will do, or they can start the process to take this to SCOTUS, with all the risk that entails. The one thing we know for sure is that no patient’s health is being protected by any of this. PDiddie, the Observer and Political Animal have more.

The Texas Future Project

Very interesting.

High-powered Democrats from Texas and California have joined with national labor unions in an effort to mobilize out-of-state donors and raise millions of dollars to build a progressive majority in the Lone Star State that could change state policy and national elections.

The Texas Future Project – that also will seek to convince Texas Democrats to donate here – wants to direct funding to groups that it has identified as working to effect change, from Battleground Texas to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

The project has commitments for close to $1 million, said Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn. He and his wife, Amber, are top Democratic donors and part of a small core group of members of the project, which also includes a key California-based supporter of President Obama.

“The main thing … when we talk to people from out of state, or folks in this state about keeping your money here, is the fact that it’s possible – and that if the work is done, and the money is spent, that it’s probable, it’s actually probable -that you now become a battleground state in 2016 for the presidential race,” Steve Mostyn said. “And the long-term effect – once you get a voter to vote once, then twice, then they are pretty much to be there.”

Mostyn said the group would “like to raise as much as we can. If it’s not doing a few million a year, then it’s not really doing what it was designed to do.”

The effort is aimed at building the infrastructure to turn out underrepresented voters in Texas – particularly Latinos, African-Americans, single women and young voters – as state demographic changes give hope to Democrats long shut out of statewide office.

[…]

The Texas Future Project was started by the Mostyns – Susman and his wife, Ellen, who has now stepped back from political efforts because she was appointed by the Obama administration to head the U.S. government’s Art in Embassies program – and San Francisco-based donor activist Steve Phillips, who was founder and chairman of PowerPAC.org, which conducted the biggest independent expenditure effort in the country in the 2008 presidential primaries to support Barack Obama. Phillips also is founder and chairman of the progressive PAC&.

Also on the ground floor of the state project are labor unions concerned about Texas wages and standards. The AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union helped start it. The United Food and Commercial Workers joined more recently.

The project has identified groups in Texas that it considers to be “high-impact, high-performing, accountable programs that are building field infrastructure and engaging in leadership development for progressive change beyond any election cycle,” according to Mostyn’s email.

They include Annie’s List, Battleground Texas, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the Texas Organizing Project and the Workers Defense Project.

My interpretation of this is that it’s basically a clearinghouse for large donors to direct funds to various groups that do good work for progressive political causes, especially progressive electoral causes. The named beneficiaries are all certainly worth supporting. Their webpage is nothing more than a way to get on their mailing list at this time, so you won’t learn much there. (Note to Randall Munroe: I had to go to the second page of the Google search results for Texas Future Project to find that webpage.) I’m a little concerned that building this kind of structure might make it more difficult for new progressive organizations to get off the ground, but I don’t know for sure that will happen. Overall, this sounds pretty good to me. What do you think?