A Texas lawmaker introduced legislation earlier this week that would nullify a controversial rule banning abortion affiliates from participating in a Medicaid program that offers reproductive health care to low-income women. (more…)
A Texas lawmaker introduced legislation earlier this week that would nullify a controversial rule banning abortion affiliates from participating in a Medicaid program that offers reproductive health care to low-income women. (more…)
When Texas decided to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from its Medicaid-funded women’s health care program, women like Crystal Gonzalez were left scrambling for a new provider. (more…)
Deep slashes to family planning funds made during Texas’ last legislative session have caused 53 clinics that provide family planning services to shutter their doors, according to a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Additionally, 38 clinics reduced their hours, and many of the existing clinics have been forced to lay off staff and cut back basic services as a result of “the most radical” legislative effort to curb reproductive health funding in the nation, the study finds. (more…)
As groups working to elect Mitt Romney president look to spend up to $1 billion in the months leading up to November, money in politics is poised to be one of the most prominent media narratives of the 2012 campaign.
Much of that money is coming from Texas, home to some of the most influential of ‘the political one percent of the one percent.’ A Sunlight Foundation report found that during the 2010 election cycle, many of the largest donors to federal political campaigns called Texas home.
In the 2012 election cycle these donors have opened up their pocketbooks again, and have contributed significant amounts to federal campaigns and Super PACs. According to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle, donors from Texas have contributed more cash to the twenty largest Super PACs than donors from any other state. The $36.5 million from Texans filling the coffers of Super PACs far outpaces the $22 million from California and $17 million from New York.
Two of the three biggest spenders in the country are among the biggest wallets in Texas, and five of the top twenty-five write checks from Texas zip codes. Only New York has more donors on the top twenty-five with seven, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
The combined contributions of the seven New York donors of $11 million does not equal the total of the biggest contributor from Texas, Harold Simmons, who has so far contributed $14.9 million to federal campaigns and PACs. In total the five Texans in the top twenty-five have contributed $26.8 million during the 2012 election cycle.
In addition to the money flowing out of Texas to Republicans and conservative committees, Democrats are also sending money out of the state. As the Chronicle reported, of the $21 million Texas Democrats have given to candidates running for federal office, Super PACs and party political committees in the 2012 election, only $4.8 million has gone to candidates from Texas.
“In the short-run, Texans who support the Democratic Party are likely to see their campaign donations have a much more substantial impact on the electoral process and policy process outside of Texas rather than inside the state,” said Mark Jones, a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. “In terms of the 36 U.S. House races, 34 to 35 are not considered to be competitive, that is we know they will either be won by a Democrat or a Republican even today. The same holds true for the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Texas.”
Jones says that in contrast, through donations to U.S. Senate races in states such as Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri, Texas donors can play a major role in races which will determine which party holds a majority in the U.S. Senate next year, as well as affect the partisan composition of the U.S. House. “By comparison, barring something truly dramatic occurring, we know for a fact that the winner of the GOP U.S. Senate primary in Texas will assume office in D.C. in January,” said Jones.
While most of the attention is being paid to money donated to federal candidates and Super PACs, these same individuals have been quietly funding campaigns in Texas. With no campaign contribution limits in state races, some candidates have gotten checks in excess of $100,000. Operating in the same way as Super PACs, political action committees in Texas received huge checks even before the Supreme Court opened the door to unlimited campaign contributions. Texas PACs regularly receive contributions of $100,000 or more, sometimes as much as $500,000.
“Unlike the case at the national level where the outsized influence of the mega-rich on campaigns via Super PACs is relatively novel in the post Citizens United world, the mega-rich having an outsized influence on elections is the normal state of affairs in Texas, given our lack of any real limits on individual and PAC donations to candidates,” said Jones.
According to Jones, the very wealthy have a much greater impact on politics and public policy in Texas than they do in a large majority of states. “This is particularly the case when you take into account the large size of the Texas House and Senate districts, which make state legislative campaigns much more expensive than in all states except California and New York, both states which have ceilings for individual and PAC donations,” said Jones.
Bob Perry, a Houston home builder and perennial financial supporter of the Texas governor and Republican candidates, has contributed more than $3.4 million since the end of the 2010 campaign, Texas Ethics Commission records show. Perry’s contributions have been spread out to lawmakers and committees throughout the state, the vast majority of which have been to Republicans or right leaning committees.
Embattled Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Republican Joe Straus has received $85,000 in contributions from Perry. A Democrat representing a district along the border, Rep. Eddie Lucio III has received $58,500. Even party switcher Republican Rep. Aaron Pena has pocketed $16,000.
Simmons, a Dallas businessman who owns Contran Corporation, has donated primarily to Republican candidates and right leaning committees throughout the state. In addition to $45,000 that Simons gave to Speaker Straus, Dallas Republican Rep. Dan Branch has received $75,000. Commissioner of the General Land Office and 2014 Lt. Governor candidate Jerry Patterson has received a total of $100,000.
Both Perry and Simmons have reserved their largest checks for political action committees. In fact, they are the two biggest funders of one of the most politically powerful organizations in the state. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, an organization that has successfully lobbied for tort reform in Texas, has received $750,000 from Simmons and $500,000 from Perry.
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Thomas Hawk, Rob Shenk)
An outside group is sinking cash into a congressional campaign in El Paso in the hopes of unseating a longtime incumbent. The Campaign for Primary Accountability has launched a negative ad campaign against Congressman Silvestre Reyes, but it remains to be seen whether or not it will make an impact in the last few weeks before the primary election.
As the Texas Independent reported, the CFA is targeting lawmakers around the country who it sees as entrenched incumbents who are unpopular in their district and have credible challengers. While some have been critical of the group for being funded predominantly by Republican leaning donors, the group has targeted both Republicans and Democrats.
In the ad, CFA takes issue with Reyes “writing campaign checks” to family members, as well as for his association with a “company Reyes helped land a huge no-bid contract” which then hired his family members. In addition the ad claims that Reyes voted to raise “his own pay by $32,000.”
The ad cites a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington report that found Reyes has paid nearly $600,000 to himself and his family in reimbursements, salaries, consulting contracts and other payments, with some of the largest amounts going to his niece.
The El Paso Times concluded in a fact check that found that it was true that he paid himself and his family out of campaign contributions for campaign work. The Times also found it partly true that Reyes family members benefit from a no-bid contract, despite the Reyes campaign saying it was “factually incorrect.”
The Times did find one claim in the ad to be false. According to the CFA the congressional voting record shows that Reyes voted for $32,000 in pay increases for congress. However, according to the Congressional Research Service, the figure is $40,400.
The Reyes campaign and the Democratic establishment has been forceful and vocal in countering the ads. Veronica Cintron, Reyes’ niece, told the Dallas Morning News that it was “unfair that they’re giving this huge amount of money that supposedly I earned and I was reimbursed, and they make it seem like it was one giant check that the campaign gave to me,” Cintron told the newspaper. “That’s not what it is.”
The Reyes campaign told the Texas Independent in a statement that the Campaign for Primary Accountability is “attempting to buy a seat in Congress for Beto O’Rourke so he can represent those who want to buy El Paso.” The campaign didn’t dispute any of the facts or claims in the ad, but said that “all reimbursements for campaign expenditures to Congressman Reyes and his campaign staff are within the law and properly documented and processed per Federal Election Commission’s rules and regulations.”
The El Paso County Democratic Party also released a statement denouncing the ad. “This group is an affront to democracy in El Paso and an attempt to stifle the voice and will of the people,” said Danny Anchondo in a press release. “A handful of wealthy individuals are attempting to influence the outcome of an election by flooding El Paso with unlimited cash to undermine the efforts of Congressman Silvestre Reyes, El Paso’s first Latino elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Jaime Abeytia, publisher of left leaning Lion Star Blog, told the Texas Independent that in terms of the factual accuracy he thought the ads “brush the line.” The El Paso activist thinks that the ads will be effective. “They absolutely are effective,” said Abeytia. “People are motivated as much if not more out of anger and fear than they are hope.”
However, he doesn’t necessarily think the ads will translate directly to a win for Reyes’ opponent. “It’s going to be much closer than people think,” said Abeytia. “I think most Democrats think that the congressman is going to win it pretty easily. But the entire temperature of the race is that the Congressman’s campaign is very concerned the congressman will barely eke it out.”
Reye’s main challenger in the primary, Beto O’Rourke, says that while he doesn’t think the campaign is going to be won on television, he believes all of the claims are factual and are issues his campaign has been raising. In an interview with the Texas Independent, O’Rourke said that he has “no ability to control and effect” what the CFA does. “We are going to keep doing what we’ve been doing which is talking to voters.”
O’Rourke says he is “disgusted” with the amount of money being spent on political campaigns. He says that he is for campaign finance reform, and open to public financing of elections. He also shares the CFA’s concerns with entrenched incumbents. “The heart of the problem is that you can basically buy a lifetime seat in congress,” said O’Rourke.
“It fits into the broader narrative of an out of touch lawmaker, abusing his office for personal gain,” said Mark Jones, a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. Jones previously told the Texas Independent that Reyes could be a possibly successful target for the CFA. “If I had to pick one incumbent who is most vulnerable, it would be in El Paso [Reyes].”
However, Jones isn’t convinced that El Paso voters will view the charges as that serious, and that the claims might be viewed as taken out of context. Jones also sees the aggressive response by the Reyes campaign as being able to counter the ad’s possible negative effects. “The advantage that Reyes has is the ability to go back on the offensive. Reyes has raised enough money to counteract these ads,” said Jones.
While partisan politics has hijacked the debate over the Violence Against Women Act, victims rights advocates in Texas say it has been an invaluable resource for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The reauthorization of VAWA, which was originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and then again in 2005, has faced unprecedented Republican opposition. As the Texas Independent reported, Republicans claim their opposition to the reauthorization of VAWA is due to Democratic additions to the legislation, while Democrats have framed Republican opposition as a continuation of the “war on women.”
At the end of April the Senate passed a reauthorization which included expansions of its protections and benefits. Passing 68 to 31 with 15 Republicans in support, S1925 included a provision that expanded protections to gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse. Also included in the legislation was an increase in the number of temporary “U visas” for undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence.
This week the House Judiciary Committee voted to not include protections for the GLBT community that were included in the senate bill. An amendment that would have prohibited domestic violence programs receiving funds under VAWA from discriminating against someone based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity was voted down along party lines.
Most organizations around Texas said that they already serve all victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, and that they have nondiscrimination policies in place.
“We already serve that [GLBT] community and it’s very important to serve that community because they experience a significant amount of violence, and they are a very vulnerable population,” said Abeer Monem, director of programs at the Fort Bend Women’s Center. “We are committed to help all victims of domestic violence.”
Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said that she doesn’t think that there are any organizations in Texas that are intentionally not serving GLBT clients, however, she believes that there may well be programs that are either “neglecting” the community or not providing outreach to the community. “Having nondiscrimination protections in the legislation protects vulnerable populations. The intent of the legislation is to deal with the domestic violence regardless of who the perpetrator is,” said Burrhus-Clay.
The Office on Violence Against Women is, according to its website, the component of the U.S. Department of Justice that provides “federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women and administer justice for and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”
OVAW currently funds 21 programs. Three of these programs are “formula” programs. This means that the enacting legislation also specifies how the funds are to be distributed. The remaining 18 programs are “discretionary” in that the Office has the responsibility to create the program parameters, qualifications, eligibility, and deliverables.
In fiscal year 2011, OVAW distributed more than $453 million in grants nationwide. Texas organizations received $15.8 million in grants, which went to 23 different organizations. Of that, the state received $8.8 million, which was distributed to different organizations either through the Office of the Governor or the Attorney General.
Much of the funding that organizations around Texas receive from VAWA goes directly into supporting victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Typically it funds staff members who work directly with the women that need services. This can include advocates who help victims through the legal process, or to staff members who monitor 24-hour victim support phone lines.
In interviews with the Texas Independent, directors of multiple organizations around Texas said that their organizations receive VAWA funding through multiple channels. Some organizations receive funding directly from the federal level, while some receive grants that are funneled through local government organizations from the Office of the Governor.
The Sexual Assault Resource Center of the Brazos Valley receives VAWA funding from the Governors Office to help victims of sexual assault, which represents about 20% of the center’s total budget. Anna Chowdhury, the executive director of the center, told the Texas Independent that they employ a sexual assault response team that works with local entities to ensure victims access to the legal system.
“It is incredibly difficult to get sexual assault cases through the justice system,” said Chowdhury. “The team works with the local district attorney’s office as well as local law enforcement, and they work together to respond to individual cases to get the best outcome for the client and getting cases to move through the criminal justice system.”
Wendie Abramson, director of disability services at Safe Place in Austin, told the Texas Independent that the organization receives grants directly from the federal level and that several different programs are made possible because of VAWA.
Safe Place has used grants to support children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual violence, transitional housing assistance for victims of domestic violence in partnership with Goodwill. They have also received funding to support disabled victims of domestic violence, which included on outreach through social media to the deaf community.
In applying for grants, Safe Place always partners with another agency, and looks for grant programs that have emphasis on innovation. “There is a focus on creating innovative models, or expanding on those models, and we are always looking to expand our services for the victims of these horrific crimes,” said Abramson.
A 24-hour hotline that is operational seven days a week is funded at the Fort Bend County Women’s Center through a VAWA grant through the Office of the Governor. Monem told the Texas Independent that the crisis hotline is critical because it is the “entry point” for most victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The $100,000 grant, which represents 12% of the center’s budget, pays for case managers and staff. Much like with other organizations, VAWA funding is used to pay for the staff members that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Monem said that the funding received through VAWA grants is extremely important. “We need every dollar that we can get,” said Monem.
Organizations lobby for reauthorization
Burrhus-Clay told the Texas Independent, that TAASA has spent a significant amount of time working to assure the reauthorization of VAWA. “We’ve been working incredibly hard in support of the reauthorization of VAWA,” said Burrhus-Clay. “With the Texas delegation in particular. We’ve wanted to let them see the importance of VAWA and how it impacts their constituents.”
Burrhus-Clay acknowledged that the current political climate has made the reauthorization process more difficult than it has been in the past. “It’s been a more contentious issue than it was in the past,” said Burrhus-Clay. “It being an election year, there are economic issues, and lots of other hot button issues that are in VAWA.”
While Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for the Senate version, her fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn voted against reauthorization of VAWA. Cornyn recently proposed the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act which would reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, legislation that TAASA supports. Despite his lack of support for VAWA, Burrhus-Clay thinks it’s important to continue working with the senator on these issues.
“Rightly or wrongly, Sen. Cornyn believes that some of the tribal previsions are solutions that will not meet constitutional muster,” said Burrhus-Clay. “I’ve been very upfront with Sen. Cornyn about where we stand. But it did not make sense to me to hold a grudge when he supports legislation that is good for Texans.”
In Texas the funding is critically important says Burrhus-Clay because of the number of people affected by sexual assault and domestic violence. “What we know from studies is that specifically in Texas only 18% of rapes are reported,” said Burrhus-Clay. “There have been 2 million victims of sexual assault in Texas. It affects one out of every five Texas women.”
“The vast majority of sexual assault survivors are not in the system, and they need support from these services,” said Burrhus-Clay. “If they didn’t report to the police, they don’t get compensated for victims services such as counseling. If VAWA goes away we would have lots of agencies who wouldn’t be able to provide services for sexual assault. These programs have been doing so much for so little for so long that it is so frustrating that they are struggling to keep their doors open.”
Repercussions of failed reauthorization
While the reauthorization of VAWA in some form is considered by many to be assured, the funding is still subject to budget cuts just like any other government agency. Organizations often heavily rely on VAWA and other federal grants to continue providing services. Oftentimes multi-county areas are served by just one organization with a small staff.
According to Chowdhury, her organization is completely staff dependent and relies on VAWA funding to serve large swaths of Central Texas. The center is based in Bryan and serves seven counties throughout the Brazos Valley. “We start out with incredibly small staff, with just six positions serving seven different counties,” said Chowdhury.
Any disruption in funding would affect the “quality and continuity of services,” according to Chowdhury. “We stay with clients for as long as we can. This could be from the initial crisis at the ER or police station through the entire legal process. It could take anywhere from a week to two years,” said Chowdhury.
“I think some people might not understand how important it is – this funding allows us to keep going,” said Chowdhury. “I think there is a misconception that things like VAWA… are not doing as much as they actually are. Not having to deal with people face to face, critics probably don’t see all the good that they do.”
“We recently lost a couple of grants, and so it’s been a tight year,” said Monem. Like other organizations, at Fort Bend County Women’s Center the services they provide are predominantly staff oriented. “Case managers are the hub of our supportive services,” said Monem. “They help with housing applications, accompanying clients to courts, go through client service programs, helping the clients with the safety program.”
“These services are a matter of life and death,” said Monem. “Whatever the arguments are and whatever the political disagreements are it’s really important that we get this reauthorization passed and not cut any of the provisions.”
After a tumultuous week for the fate of reproductive care in Texas, Planned Parenthood will remain in the Women’s Health Program (WHP)– at least for now.
Just hours after an initial federal court ruling last Monday that deemed Texas’ controversial decision to block the centers from the WHP unconstitutional, a single judge quickly reversed the temporary injunction in a move being called “very rare” and “highly unusual.” The legal battle took another twist two days later when a three-judge appeals panel struck that order down and reinstated Planned Parenthood into the program, pending oral arguments and eventually a full trial.
In its May 4 briefing, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel–which includes the judge who granted the state’s emergency stay–slammed Texas for continually omitting “important precedent” in its attempt to enforce the ban. While the state is fighting to keep Planned Parenthood from participating in the federally subsidized low-income reproductive health services program because it provides abortions, the panel noted a significant 2007 Fifth Circuit case that makes clear Planned Parenthood abortion services operate as wholly separate operations from family planning services and is thus able to receive public funding– a case never mentioned by Texas officials in their court proceedings.
Our conclusion rests in part on the state’s continuing reluctance to address the obviously relevant opinion in [Planned Parenthood of Central Texas vs Sanchez]. Despite the plaintiffs’ and the district court’s having relied extensively on that authority, which binds this panel to the extent it is applicable, the state never mentioned it (as far as we can tell from the record) in the district court and did not refer to it in any way in its motion for stay pending appeal. Nor has the state sought leave to supplement its submission with a response to Sanchez the plaintiffs’ focus on the affidavit referred to above.
Blake Rocap, legislative counsel with reproductive rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas says the state’s refusal to take Sanchez into account is significant and ushers in further criticism that the legal battle is fueled by ideology rather than concern for women’s health.
“The three-judge panel commented on the Attorney General’s failure to address this specific and relevant precedent in their briefing– another indication that this is not about upholding law or women’s access to health care but is much more about politics,” said Rocap.
Echoing plaintiff concerns, the panel also called into question the state’s need for an emergency stay to reverse the initial court ruling. Requested by Attorney General Greg Abbott, the stay was granted within 24 hours by Judge Jerry Smith, a former GOP county chair and Republican activist with a controversial history of disparaging women, the Texas Independent previously reported. The urgency of the stay relied on the claim that preventing the ban would force Texas to cease operating the WHP “upon termination of federal funding.” But funding will continue until November 2012, the briefing points out, invalidating the state’s argument.
This supplemental filing undermines the State’s assertion of irreparable harm if the injunction is not stayed pending appeal. Regarding the balance of the merits, we cannot conclude, on the present state of the record, that the State has shown a great likelihood, approaching a near certainty, that the district court abused its discretion in entering the injunction.
An ‘emergency stay’ is normally reserved for situations that would cause irreparable harm, says Wayne Krause-Wang, legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project. The cases must qualify as exceptional circumstances with severe time constraints– the state’s claim for such an emergency is questionable, he argues, considering its lack of proof of damage.
“It was certainly a tactic within the ability of the state of Texas to pursue,” said Krause-Wang. “It makes sense to apply for an emergency stay if you have the evidence to back it up, in this case it didn’t appear the state had the evidence, and that’s what the three judge panel ended up ruling at the end.”
“In retrospect the state’s argument of irreparable harm doesn’t seem to be viable. Ironically, it is a little disingenuous to say the state would be harmed by their own voluntary decision to cut off the Women’s Health Program, I think that’s turning the argument on its head,” he added.
Rocap called the emergency order “especially duplicitous.”
“Planned Parenthood has served as the largest provider of these services in the WHP since 2005 without incident, yet these anti-choice politicians are now declaring that it is an “Emergency” to exclude them because they exercise their First Amendment rights to affiliate with advocates of safe legal abortion,” he said. “Given no injury has been shown over the past seven years of Planned Parenthood’s participation, it is clear that the true emergency is that this is an election year and again we are seeing politicians put the health of their political careers ahead of the health of women.”
The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), which days earlier indicated it would shut out Planned Parenthood, is now prohibited from enforcing the ban. The district court will decide on a definitive trial start date on May 18. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the state’s appeal of the temporary injunction during the week of June 4.
“We will comply with the court’s order as the case proceeds,” said HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman. “We also will continue to work toward a state program that provides women with access to vital family planning services and complies with the law that bans abortion providers from getting those funds.”
Read the court of appeals document here.
(Photo Source: Flickr/WeNews)
A court ruling issued yesterday that would have stopped Texas from implementing a ban on Planned Parenthood providers in the Women’s Health Program (WHP) is now obsolete. The state quickly appealed the ruling just hours after it was announced and received a stay on the preliminary injunction the same day, giving reproductive rights advocates less than 24 hours to celebrate. Texas is now able to exclude Planned Parenthood from the life-saving WHP, shutting out tens of thousands of low-income women who rely on the clinics for basic reproductive health care.
“The ruling allows the state to fully enforce state law today and exclude abortion providers from the Women’s Health Program. As of today, abortion providers and affiliates aren’t eligible to bill the state for Women’s Health Program services,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner (HHSC) spokesperson Stephanie Goodman in an e-mail.
Yesterday’s ruling concluded that Texas’ ban on allowing Planned Parenthood providers to participate in the WHP because they affiliate with abortion services would pose “substantial and irreparable harm,” to hundreds of thousands of low-income women. It violates the provider’s First Amendment rights and ultimately fails to serve the public interest, Bush-appointed Judge Lee Yeakel ruled. In response, Attorney General Greg Abbott writes in the appeal that the state and the women of Texas who depend on the WHP would be, “irreparably harmed” because state law prohibits Texas from continuing to operate the program, “if taxpayer money must be provided to entities that affiliate with abortion-promoting entities,”– despite the fact no taxpayer money is allowed to go toward abortions and no clinic in the program actually provide abortion services.
The appeal takes sharp aim at blaming Planned Parenthood for its response. “Consequently, the district court’s preliminary injunction effectively forces Texas to choose between contravening state law and shutting down the program,” Abbott writes. “This emergency situation is of Planned Parenthood’s own making. Planned Parenthood has been on notice of the state law at the heart of this suit for months.” Similarly, Texas has been on notice by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid which warned the state it would lose all federal funding if the rule excluding Planned Parenthood– a provider of the program since its inception some five years ago– goes into effect, but the state remained steadfast in arguing its right to exclude the clinics, in the face of federal law.
Sarah Wheat, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood Austin, is confident Yeakel’s ruling will hold if the issue sees a full trial. (A May 18 pretrial conference date to decide when a full trial will begin is scheduled, but that may change as events evolve.)
“We are disappointed in the stay granted last night, but we will be responding [later] today. We are optimistic that when the State’s motion for a stay is fully considered, the District Court’s order that Texas cannot prevent Planned Parenthood from providing cancer screenings, birth control, screenings for high blood pressure and diabetes, and STD testing as part of the Women’s Health Program will stand,” she said in a statement. “When presented with both sides, the District Court agreed the rule was likely unconstitutional, and that implementation would cause a serious problem with health care access for Texas women.”
On behalf of HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs, Abbott filed the emergency motion to stay Monday evening in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Jerry Smith– a former Harris County GOP chairman, Republican activist and oil-industry lawyer, appointed to the bench by former President Ronald Reagan– granted the stay. While an April Associated Press article describes Smith as a non-partisan figure, the judge came under fire for “disparaging comments” he reportedly made about women during his time as GOP county chairman.
A July 1987 article in the Houston Chronicle says Smith had labeled feminists as a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects” [with "perverted views”] and referred to the League of Women Voters as the “Plague of Women Voters.”
Upon retrieval of the 1987 article, The Texas Independent additionally notes Smith is also reported to have made attempts to, “get a black woman judge removed from a minority rights case.” Combined with his criticism of women, civil rights and feminist organizations “immediately questioned or spoke out against” his nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Linda Berg, counsel for the national office of NOW told the Houston Chronicle at the time, “He clearly is very insensitive, at least in the past he has shown himself insensitive, to minority rights and women’s rights. He has been involved in some controversial actions that upset women’s and civil rights groups in Houston.”
In January, Smith was part of the three-judge panel that upheld Texas’ controversial pre-abortion sonogram law, a move that overturned a U.S. district judge’s ruling that found the law unconstitutional. Basing the decision largely on moral grounds, Smith helped strike a preliminary injunction on the sonogram law, a ruling heralded by Gov. Rick Perry and state anti-abortion advocates. Undergoing an abortion is “a difficult and painful moral decision,” the judges concluded at the time, “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.”
According to a 1996 Austin American-Statesman article retrieved via Lexis-Nexis, Smith dismissed a damage suit by a Texas mother who sued school officials in Bryan for not protecting her two middle-school age daughters from sexual harassment by boys on the school bus. The girls allegedly, “had endured nine months of repeated taunts, groping and grabbing,” while riding the bus. ”The mere existence of sexual harassment does not necessarily constitute sexual discrimination,” the Judge wrote for the Fifth Circuit Court.
Planned Parenthood is expected to file a brief later today. To read a copy of the state’s stay request, click here.