Last year the Texas Legislature took this state down a rabbit hole into an Alice-in-Wonderland world of sexual politics.
In response to pressures from anti-abortion forces, the Legislature passed a law barring Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program. It provides cancer and other health screening as well as contraceptive services to more than 100,000 low-income women who earn marginally too much to qualify for Medicaid.
For many of these women, the Women's Health Program serves as their regular checkup, as well as their source of family planning. The providers are modestly reimbursed, with about 90 percent of the $40 million annually coming from the federal government.
The federal government has told Texas that under the law, women are free to choose any qualified providers and Planned Parenthood cannot be excluded. For a variety of reasons, about 50 percent of the women in the program choose Planned Parenthood clinics.
Gov. Perry chivalrously asserts that the state will pay for the whole program itself, but it is very doubtful that the state can rapidly replace the organization that, up until now, has served half the clients.
What takes these cuts into Alice-in-Wonderland territory is the rationale. The Planned Parenthood clinics cannot provide family planning services because another subdivision of the organization, housed elsewhere, provides abortions.
But cutting contraceptive services will inevitably lead to more abortions. The state's nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board estimated that the cuts to this program, plus $74 million in cuts to other family planning services, will lead to about 20,000 more births among poor women and $100 million in state Medicaid expenses for those births.
Studies indicate that about half of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion, so the cuts will also mean thousands more abortions.
This week, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin tried to pull Texas out of Wonderland. He granted Planned Parenthood a temporary injunction barring Texas from excluding the organization from the program.
In a 25-page opinion, Yeakel ruled that Planned Parenthood was likely to prevail after a trial with its argument that its First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association are violated by the Texas law.
Lest you conclude that Yeakel is a Democratic judicial activist, he was appointed by George W. Bush based on recommendations by the state's two Republican senators.
Injunctions such as the one Yeakel issued are designed to prevent harm to a party the judge thinks is likely to prevail in court. Yeakel's logic is clear. Planned Parenthood and some of its clients will clearly suffer harm between now and the time their case makes it through the courts.
Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an emergency appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but a three-judge panel on Friday upheld Yeakel's injunction. A final decision on Planned Parenthood's status won't take place until Yeakel holds a trial, and any appeal is final.
But even if Planned Parenthood wins, they and all of us may lose: all the women will lose health screening and family planning services; taxpayers will have to pay for pregnancies and births for low-income women who had wanted to avoid them; and thousands of abortions that otherwise would not have taken place will be performed.
Why? Because the Legislature wrote into law that if Planned Parenthood prevails in court, the entire program will be ended.
In Wonderland, the Red Queen said, “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.” The Legislature, the Red Queen's sister in logic, says, “Sentence first — and if the verdict goes the wrong way, punishment for everyone!”