AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. judge in Austin issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday halting Texas' plan to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the state did not present evidence of a program violation that would warrant termination.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said state health officials "likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause." He said the preliminary injunction will preserve the court's ability to render a meaningful decision on the case's merits.
"Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider," wrote the judge who was appointed by Republican former President George H.W. Bush.
The reproductive healthcare group has said the threatened funding cut, by terminating Planned Parenthood's enrollment in the state-funded healthcare system for the poor, could affect nearly 11,000 patients across Texas as they try to access services such as HIV and cancer screenings.
Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization's funding since an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.
Texas investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos and a grand jury last January cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists who made the videos for document fraud but the charges were dismissed.
The state took no further criminal action against Planned Parenthood after that but has repeated its accusations that the abortion provider may have violated state law.
Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing and sued the anti-abortion activists who made the videos.
Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would appeal.
"Today’s decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency," he said in a statement.
In fiscal 2015, Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received about $4.2 million in Medicaid funding, the state's Health and Human Services Commission said. Planned Parenthood said the amount for 2016 was estimated at around $3 million.
None of the money that the group received went for abortions, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Texas and the Medicaid defunding plan have said.
Planned Parenthood has 34 health centers in Texas, serving more than 120,000 patients, 11,000 of whom are Medicaid patients, it said.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish