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Texas to end health program if Planned Parenthood participates

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas health program that serves more than 100,000 low-income women will shut down if Planned Parenthood is allowed to continue participating, the state's health and human services chief said on Thursday.

Planned Parenthood has asked a federal appeals court to reconsider a lower court ruling that allows Texas to ban it from the program.

"If they prevail in that case, and the courts say, ‘You have to include Planned Parenthood,' then, yes, (the program) goes away," Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek said.

The Texas program is at the heart of a dispute between the Republican-dominated state government and the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. Several other states have tried to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

The federal government, which pays for 90 percent of the $39-million-a-year program, has said it will not renew the funding because Texas decided to enforce a law that had been on the books for several years barring funding for abortion providers and affiliates.

Texas is creating its own program for 115,000 low-income women using state funds. It is set to begin November 1.

State officials previously had said the program would not continue if Planned Parenthood participates, but rules unveiled by Janek on Thursday for the state-funded program make that official.

The current federal-state health program provides contraception and health screenings. The state-funded program will provide those services plus treatment of certain sexually transmitted diseases, Janek said.

Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which serves Houston and surrounding areas, said ending the program would be devastating for patients.

"It's shocking that they would rather end a program for low-income, uninsured women than to allow Planned Parenthood to provide these services," she said in an interview.

Planned Parenthood, which is still serving women through the program, says it does not provide abortions at clinics that participate in the program. The state objects to the family planning group's affiliation with clinics that do provide abortions.

Nearly half of the women in the program are served by Planned Parenthood, Tafolla said.

A study released this month by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services raised questions about whether other facilities would be able to absorb the patients now served by Planned Parenthood.

"There is no evidence that they are prepared to sustain the very large caseload increases that would be required to fill the gaps left after Planned Parenthood affiliates are excluded," the study said.

But state officials say they have added hundreds of new providers to the program.

"I have every expectation we'll be ready on November 1," Janek said. He added: "We're peddling as fast as we can, trying to get a good, robust network."

(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Stacey Joyce)

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