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Rule targeting Texas abortion providers halted

A federal appeals court reinstated an order blocking Texas from enforcing a rule that would keep Planned Parenthood-affiliated groups from taking part in a state-funded women's health program.

The organizations sued Texas on April 11 to block the regulation, which bars the state from contracting with entities affiliated with abortion providers. It was designed to exclude the operators of 49 health centers from the program after the end of April. Planned Parenthood argued the rule is unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Austin blocked the rule in part due to the "potential for immediate loss of access to necessary medical services by several thousand Texas women." The state appealed, arguing "irreparable harm" if the stay remained in force. The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, after acceding to the request, reinstated the injunction Friday, saying in a filing that Texas omitted facts that call "into question" its claim of emergency.

The case pits Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, against President Obama, a Democrat. Perry pledged earlier this year to replace almost $30 million in federal funds for the women's health program that the Obama administration cut off because of the state ban. Obama has said Texas can't block federally approved organizations such as Planned Parenthood from participating in programs underwritten by Medicaid, which pays for health services for the poor.

The appeals court, which didn't rule on the merits of the case, ordered oral arguments on the injunction for early June.

The nonprofit Planned Parenthood organizations care for almost half of the state program's 130,000 participants.

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Perry, said last month that the appeal by State Attorney General Greg Abbott will "defend the will of Texans and our state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the Women's Health Program."

In its complaint, Planned Parenthood argued that women in Texas are finding it difficult to get care at its health centers and alternative providers and that without the injunction, patients would be forced to go without preventative care.

"The only 'irreparable harm' in this entire situation would be inflicted on the low-income Texas women who rely in the Women's Health Program for their basic, preventive health care," said Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.