On Thursday January 19, Judge Sam Sparks heard closing arguments wrapping up a three day hearing to determine whether Sparks would block the State’s termination of Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid Contract. The Planned Parenthood Medicaid contract was set to expire on January 21, however Judge Sparks placed a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the contract termination, pending a ruling on Planned Parenthood’s request for injunctive relief. This hearing, not a full trial, was about Planned Parenthood’s request to keep their Medicaid contract in place until a full trial is held and a decision reached. The hearing offered a preview of what both sides would argue in a full trial. Judge Sparks indicated he fully expected his ruling to be appealed to the Federal 5th Circuit Court, saying at the beginning of the hearing “I’m an elevator; I take a case; I move it up to people much smarter than me.”
The State of Texas presented a strong case for their decision to terminate the Planned Parenthood Medicaid contract, a case that centered on the misconduct revealed in undercover videos recorded at a Houston Planned Parenthood, and showed that the network of Medicaid providers has both the capacity and the geographic coverage to care for Medicaid patients without Planned Parenthood. The State’s last witness was Jami Snyder, Associate Commissioner for Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission, who oversees the entire Medicaid program. Commissioner Snyder focused on the large network of State Medicaid providers exclusively, including 29,000 Primary Care Physicians enrolled in Medicaid, as well as 3,300 OB/GYNs enrolled in Medicaid statewide.
Additionally, the State played several clips of undercover video showing Melissa Farrell, Director of Research at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, negotiating what would be a satisfactory “reimbursement” rate for baby body parts harvested at the abortion center. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood executives admitted to not having watched the full 8.5 hour video recorded at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, despite making claims about what was and was not said. Judge Sparks, historically not a friend to the Pro-Life movement, made a passing remark on the indictments made against the undercover journalists in Harris County, which were later dropped, calling the entire botched investigation and process “a mess”.
Judge Sparks concluded the hearing by issuing the TRO to stall the contract termination until February 21, and by saying he hoped to review the evidence and material presented, and then release an opinion on the injunction before the TRO expired.
For three days, the State of Texas has been in federal court defending the State’s decision to bar Planned Parenthood from the Texas Medicaid program. In October 2015, following the release of undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, the State of Texas issued a notice of termination to several Planned Parenthood conglomerates, informing the abortion business that their eligibility as Medicaid providers was under review. The videos show egregious abuses of the major abortion business negotiating the sale of baby body parts for profit and altering abortion procedures to deliver more intact “specimens” (both of which are against federal law). In December of 2016, the state ultimately issued a final termination letter, resulting in an inevitable lawsuit by the mega abortion business.
Texas Right to Life’s legislative team was in the courthouse for the bulk of the trial, listening to witnesses and the presentation of evidence.
As plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood’s witnesses filled the first day and discussions of the gruesome of abortion procedures reigned. Dr. Paul Fine, the Medical Director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, who oversees and teaches abortion procedures, testified that he has committed thousands of abortions during his “career.” In an attempt to downplay the seriousness of altering abortion practices, Dr. Fine testified that, “Minor alterations are made in the procedure all the time for every woman…sometimes patients request a footprint as a memento.” How disturbing.
The second day of testimony was reserved for the State, which defended Texas’ reasons for deeming Planned Parenthood ineligible to participate in the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program. Chief among the violations reported for the stripping of funds included: documented willingness to charge a higher price for harvesting baby body parts; statements given to a Texas Ranger that Planned Parenthood’s agreement of fetal tissue harvesting and research with Baylor College of Medicine had not been approved by the Institutional Review Board; and a history of altering abortion procedures, many times at the risk of increased pain to the mother, in order to present more intact body parts to researchers.
Presiding Judge Sam Sparks showed interest in knowing where Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid recipients would be able to procure services elsewhere. The State offered several highlights:
- Out of $30 million Medicaid funds, Planned Parenthood affiliates only receive $3.4 million from the program;
- Lesley French, associate commissioner for Women’s Health Services in Texas, testified that just within a five-mile radius of Houston’s Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast center, there are 357 other Medicaid providers able to see new patients and that; and
- Under the Healthy Texas Women program alone, there are over 5,000 providers for reproductive health across the state who are both Medicaid providers and mandated to accept new patients.
Given the multitude of documents entered into evidence, and an 8.5 hour undercover video, Judge Sparks indicated a ruling would not be ready on Friday. Although Judge Sparks has a history of favoring the abortion lobby, Texas Right to Life fervently prays that the abortion giant will indeed no longer be allowed access to taxpayer funds.