AUSTIN -- An Austin judge ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood Thursday. The battle between the women's health care provider and the State of Texas is likely headed to a December trial.
The reaction from Planned Parenthood's legal counsel was brief, but upbeat.
"This is another victory for the women of Texas that Planned Parenthood of Texas are proud to serve," said Austin attorney Pete Schenkkan, one of five attorneys representing Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas in its lawsuit against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Following the order issued Thursday afternoon by Travis County 354th District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky, attorneys for both Planned Parenthood and the State of Texas will now prepare for a trial tentatively set for December.
In the meantime, a temporary injunction allowing Planned Parenthood to continue receiving state funds under the Women's Health Program was renewed pending the trial's outcome.
The lawsuit seeks to strike down a law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 banning organizations associated with abortion providers from participating in the Women's Health Program. The program provides cancer screenings and other women's health services to more than 100,000 women across the state.
Planned Parenthood's legal counsel argued Thursday, the law's application to ban Planned Parenthood as a provider violates a portion of the Texas Human Resources Code.
"We are grateful to the American legal system and to Judge Yelenosky for his patient hearing of the arguments and of course for his order," Schenkkan said.
Emotions on both sides have run high since it was announced that federal Medicaid dollars, which fund 90 percent of the current program's budget, would be withheld if the state moved forward in removing Planned Parenthood from the program.
"Planned Parenthood's abortion services account for maybe three percent of what they do, and the rest of it is providing affordable health care for women," Planned Parenthood supporter Jordan Crow told KVUE at a rally near the Texas Capitol in March.
"There are so many pregnancy resource centers and women's resource centers around Austin that provide all equal services to that, minus abortion," said Ashley Granger, who was among those counter-demonstrating outside the event.
At a media conference in late October, Texas Governor Rick Perry vowed to move forward with a state-run program without Planned Parenthood, reiterating his commitment to make up for the lack of federal funding by launching the Texas Women's Health Program completely with state money.
"I'm proud to say that we now have 3,000 qualified providers ready and able to supply those preventative services," said Perry.
Perry warned that any ruling which forced Texas to allow Planned Parenthood's continued participation in the program would result in the Women's Health Program being completely dismantled.
"Almost half of the Women's Health Program patients choose Planned Parenthood and I don't feel there are going to be enough providers," Austin Planned Parenthood patient Emily Howell told KVUE Thursday.
Planned Parenthood recently asked for a federal lawsuit to be dismissed, citing precedent barring them from having the same lawsuit in both state and federal courts at the same time.
On Thursday, Governor Perry accused Planned Parenthood of deliberately choosing a more favorable venue.
"Planned Parenthood has finally acknowledged what we have known from the very beginning – their constitutional challenge is flawed on its face," Perry said in a statement. "Venue shopping and courtroom sleight-of-hand in no way helps the women of Texas. We see their stalling tactic for what it is – yet another attempt to unashamedly defy the will of Texas voters and taxpayers.”
"Frankly it's pretty reflective of what we're dealing with here," Perry told KVUE Thursday at the Capitol. "Which is just let's keep throwing stuff at the wall and see if we can make something stick."
"We applaud Judge Yelenosky’s decision to grant a temporary injunction," said Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County CEO Patricio Gonzales in a statement following the order. "The state may claim that the effect on women is irrelevant but today’s ruling is a small but critical victory for the approximately 50,000 Texas women who rely on Planned Parenthood for life-saving cancer screenings, basic health care and birth control through the Women’s Health Program.”
Planned Parenthood argues it can resume its federal lawsuit at any point. Thursday's injunction could be overturned if successfully challenged by the state. Otherwise, the case will proceed to trial in state court in December.