US judge blocks Texas plans to cut Planned Parenthood Medicaid funds

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. judge in Austin issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday halting Texas' plan to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the state did not present evidence of a program violation that would warrant termination.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said state health officials "likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause." He said the preliminary injunction will preserve the court's ability to render a meaningful decision on the case's merits.

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Recent Planned Parenthood Protests both for and against
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Recent Planned Parenthood Protests both for and against
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: Right to Life advocate Linda Heilman prays during a sit-in in front of a proposed Planned Parenthood location while demonstrating the group's opposition to congressional funding of Planned Parenthood on September 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Right to Life groups who took part in the protest are also calling on Pope Francis to 'address the pro-life issue and the defunding of Planned Parenthood' when he addresses Congress on September 24. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: Right to Life advocate Linda Heilman (L) prays during a sit-in in front of a proposed Planned Parenthood location while demonstrating the group's opposition to congressional funding of Planned Parenthood on September 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Right to Life groups who took part in the protest are also calling on Pope Francis to 'address the pro-life issue and the defunding of Planned Parenthood' when he addresses Congress on September 24. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: Right to Life advocates block 4th St. N.E. during a sit-in in front of a proposed Planned Parenthood location while demonstrating the group's opposition to congressional funding of Planned Parenthood on September 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Right to Life groups who took part in the protest are also calling on Pope Francis to 'address the pro-life issue and the defunding of Planned Parenthood' when he addresses Congress on September 24. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 16: Protesters hold signs protesting Planned Parenthood in front of the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill September 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition urged the Republican leadership not to give taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Anti-abortion activists hold a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson attends a anti-abortion rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Planned Parenthood faces mounting criticism amid the release of videos by a pro-life group and demands to vote in the Senate to stop funding. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 25: Director of Planned Parenthood of Utah Karrie Galloway speaks during Sex, Politics And Film Hosted By Lena Dunham And Planned Parenthood Action Fund - 2015 Park City at Wahso Asian Grill on January 25, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Anti-abortion activists hold a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced a Senate deal to vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood before the Senate goes into recess in August. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11: Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. The rally was hosted by Planned Parenthood Federation of America to urge Congress against passing any legislation to limit access to safe and legal abortion. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11: Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. The rally was hosted by Planned Parenthood Federation of America to urge Congress against passing any legislation to limit access to safe and legal abortion. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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"Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider," wrote the judge who was appointed by Republican former President George H.W. Bush.

The reproductive healthcare group has said the threatened funding cut, by terminating Planned Parenthood's enrollment in the state-funded healthcare system for the poor, could affect nearly 11,000 patients across Texas as they try to access services such as HIV and cancer screenings.

Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization's funding since an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.

Texas investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos and a grand jury last January cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists who made the videos for document fraud but the charges were dismissed.

The state took no further criminal action against Planned Parenthood after that but has repeated its accusations that the abortion provider may have violated state law.

Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing and sued the anti-abortion activists who made the videos.

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would appeal.

In fiscal 2015, Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received about $4.2 million in Medicaid funding, the state's Health and Human Services Commission said. Planned Parenthood said the amount for 2016 was estimated at around $3 million.

None of the money that the group received went for abortions, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Texas and the Medicaid defunding plan have said.

Planned Parenthood has 34 health centers in Texas, serving more than 120,000 patients, 11,000 of whom are Medicaid patients, it said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)

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