Last updated: February 16. 2013 6:18PM - 75 Views

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AUSTIN, Texas -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Texas did not act unconstitutionally when it moved to expel Planned Parenthood from a health and contraceptive care program for low-income women.


The ruling overturned a preliminary injunction, issued in April by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin, that banned Texas from enforcing rules designed to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program. Yeakel found that the regulations violated the organization's rights of free speech and association.


The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, sided with Texas late Tuesday - ruling that the state had the authority to prohibit Women's Health Program money from going to health care providers that promote abortion or affiliate with organizations that perform or promote abortions.


Officials said Texas will act promptly to drop Planned Parenthood from the program.


"We appreciate the court's ruling and will move to enforce state law banning abortion providers and affiliates from the Women's Health Program as quickly as possible," said Stephanie Goodman with the state Health and Human Services Commission.


The program -- which provides screenings for cancer, hypertension, sexually transmitted infections and other conditions - is primarily designed to provide birth control to women who would be covered by Medicaid if they were to become pregnant.


Planned Parenthood has been the program's largest provider, serving more than 40 percent of about 130,000 uninsured patients seen annually.


The program does not pay for abortions, and participating Planned Parenthood clinics do not perform the procedure. But because the organization is the nation's leading provider of abortions and is a vocal advocate for abortion rights, Gov. Rick Perry and Republicans in the Legislature have worked to cut off its state money.


Perry praised the ruling as "a win for Texas women, our rule of law and our state's priority to protect life." Planned Parenthood leaders plan to meet with lawyers today to decide on the next course of action. The organization, which received almost $13 million in reimbursements from the Women's Health Program in 2010, had warned that losing the money could result in closed clinics and layoffs.

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