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Appeals court allows Texas to exclude Planned Parenthood

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - An appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the state of Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from a state health program for low-income women because the organization performs abortions.

The ruling by 5th U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith reversed a lower court ruling Monday in favor of the family planning organization. The emergency ruling on Tuesday means the state is free - for now - to enforce a new rule banning Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, Texas officials said. The court requested a response from Planned Parenthood by Tuesday afternoon.

"At this point, Planned Parenthood is not an eligible provider in the Women's Health Program," Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said on Tuesday.

The Women's Health Program, which is part of the federal-state Medicaid program, provides cancer screenings, birth control and other health services to more than 100,000 low-income women.

It does not pay for abortions or allow abortion providers to participate in the program. The new state rule bans program money from going to affiliates of abortion providers. State law has included that ban on affiliates since the program began in 2007 but the state did not enforce it.

Planned Parenthood said on Tuesday it will continue seeing patients who are enrolled in the program. It is unclear whether its clinics would be reimbursed by the government for that care.

"We don't want to cause any more confusion or fear than the state has already caused Texas women," Sarah Wheat, interim chief executive of Planned Parenthood in Austin, said in an email.

A spokeswoman for Texas Governor Rick Perry said the state will defend Texas law.

"Texas has a long history of protecting life (of the unborn)," spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a statement.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel temporarily blocked the state rule, citing "the potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women."

Planned Parenthood had told Yeakel that the healthcare of 40,000 women would be disrupted unless he blocked the rule.

But lawyers for the state said Planned Parenthood's mission was contrary to a program goal of reducing abortions and that the program would end if Planned Parenthood remains in it.

Texas notified the federal government last year of its intent to begin enforcing the ban, effectively excluding Planned Parenthood from the program.

President Barack Obama's administration has said it will not renew funding for the Texas program because the state was violating federal law by restricting the freedom to choose providers.

The state is suing over that decision. The federal government pays 90 percent of the $33 million-a-year program.

Planned Parenthood has been under siege in several states by abortion opponents. In the past year alone, states including Wisconsin, North Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana, in addition to Texas, have moved to block Planned Parenthood from receiving taxpayer money.

(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Bill Trott)

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