AUSTIN -- It's been a debate marked by heated protests from both sides.
A bill passed by the 82nd Texas Legislature in 2011 bans organizations that provide abortions or are affiliated with providers of abortions from participating in and receiving funding through the state Women's Health Program (WHP).
The law was written specifically targeting Planned Parenthood, and late Tuesday a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled the ban can remain in effect while both parties await a court hearing in October over a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood against the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). Supporters of the bill praised the court's decision.
Their goal is to promote abortions, and so Texas is going to have no part of it, said Jonathan Saenz of the conservative Liberty Institute. We have a constitutional right to do that, and that's what the court said.
Saenz and others applaud the court for upholding the policy passed through the legislature by popularly-elected lawmakers, but those on the other side believe it's a loss for women's health.
We were disappointed by last night's court ruling, but we're here today. We're open, said Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region interim CEO Sarah Wheat.
Wheat says clinics will continue to offer the same services, and due to heavy donations in the wake of a brief dust-up with Susan G. Komen for the Cure earlier this year, plans to expand breast cancer screenings to 40,000 additional women in Texas will move forward.
Along with providing contraceptive birth control and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases, Wheat says services other than abortion make up the majority of Planned Parenthood's work.
These are basic health exams that keep women healthy, help them plan and space their families, be stronger, healthier moms, and they're not controversial, said Wheat. Yet the politicians in this state, those are exactly the services they've targeted and are potentially eliminating.
Wheat says although the ruling doesn't change Planned Parenthood's services in the short term, the suit's eventual outcome is something that is of significant concern. According to Planned Parenthood, none of the state money reimbursed to clinics is used for abortions, and clinics that offer abortion services are already not participating in the program.
Even if they're not using it to perform abortions, if they're using it to promote abortion, it's the same thing, Saenz argues.
Planned Parenthood clinics currently serve 40 percent of the roughly 130,000 low-income women statewide who receive services through the Women's Health Program, but supporters of the bill insist others could pick up the slack.
We have more than 2,000 qualified providers other than Planned Parenthood who use our tax dollars very well to provide services to low-income women and their families without promoting abortion as a method of family planning, said Joe Pojman of Texas Alliance for Life.
Wheat argues that as a non-profit, Planned Parenthood is able to provide services at a scale that would be cost-prohibitive for smaller, individually-run offices that may qualify under WHP but do not deal primarily in women's health issues.
Pojman's view is that rather than referring women to outside specialists after screening, individual offices would be able provide screening and treatment for issues like cancer in the same location.
According to the Department of State Health Services, Planned Parenthood will continue receiving state funding for at least a few more days until DSHS can work out the administrative mechanics of dropping the provider from the Women's Health Program.
By banning Planned Parenthood, the state loses out on a 9-to-1 match in federal funding. Texas Governor Rick Perry has promised to find the $33 million to run the Women's Health Program in the state budget. In the meantime, the state has launched a new website with information on the state-run program.