A federal appeals court has vacated a lower court ruling striking down Texas’ plan to defund Planned Parenthood and said that undercover sting videos purporting to unmask illegal practices of the abortion giant and its partners were authentic and not doctored.
A three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down last week a federal judge’s February 2017 ruling barring the Texas Department of Health and Human Services from stripping the nation’s largest abortion provider of millions in Medicaid funding.
The panel has sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who previously shot down Texas’ claim that it stripped Planned Parenthood of state funding in part due to the release in 2015 of the Center for Medical Progress’ series of undercover investigative videos.
The videos purported to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of aborted baby organs and even discussing how to alter abortions to harvest preferred tissue samples.
Planned Parenthood has consistently claimed that the videos are “deceptively edited” and has even filed lawsuits in an attempt to silence the pro-life organization and prevent more videos from being released.
But the court’s ruling last Thursday seems to refute the lower court’s claim that the Center for Medical Progress videos have not been authenticated.
The ruling argues that Sparks stated “inaccurately” that the videos “had not been authenticated and suggested that it may have been edited.”
“In fact, the record reflects that [Texas HHS Office of Inspector General] had submitted a report from a forensic firm concluding that the video was authentic and not deceptively edited,” the appeals court ruling states. “And the plaintiffs did not identify any particular omission or addition in the video footage.”
The Fifth Circuit also slammed Sparks for being “dismissive” of a report from the HHS Office of Inspector General — the agency responsible for enforcing state health care laws — outlining how Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast had strayed from “standards of medical ethics"
Despite citing the CMP videos, Sparks reasoned that the OIG didn’t have “even a scintilla of evidence” to justify terminating Planned Parenthood's funding.
The Fifth Circuit criticized Sparks for suggesting that the Texas inspector general and the OIG’s chief medical officer were “insufficiently informed regarding how to perform abortions.”
“We reject this argument. OIG is the agency that the state of Texas has empowered to investigate and penalize Medicaid program violations,” the Fifth Circuit ruling states. “The agency is in the business of saying when providers are qualified and when they are not. That the Chief Medical Officer is a surgeon — and not himself an abortion provider — does not mean that he deserves no deference when deciding whether a provider has failed to meet the medical and ethical standards the state requires.”
The appeals court sent the case back to Sparks, stating that he had applied the wrong “standard of review” in the case.
“When a court applies incorrect legal principles, it abuses its discretion,” the opinion explained, adding that it was invalidating the lower court decision because of an “arbitrary-and-capricious standard.”
Planned Parenthood blasted the ruling.
“[I]t is completely outrageous that officials are using thoroughly discredited, fraudulent videos to try to cut women off from preventive health care, including cancer screenings, HIV testing, and birth control,” a statement from Planned Parenthood reads.
In a statement, CMP stated that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “vindicated” its work by “debunking Planned Parenthood’s smear that the videos were ‘heavily edited’ or ‘doctored.’”
ACLJ, which represents former CMP board member Troy Newman, stated that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “refutes the claim” made by the plaintiffs in the California case that the incriminating statements made by Planned Parenthood officials in the CMP videos can be “chalked up to deceptive video editing.”
“This false accusation is further defeated by the fact that, when CMP released its shorter summary videos, it also released full-length footage of the relevant conversations,” an ACLJ news release states. “Additionally, the Fifth Circuit’s decision is helpful in the nationwide fight over the ability of federal and state legislatures and executive branch agencies to minimize or eliminate taxpayer funding for abortion providers.”
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear similar cases where Planned Parenthood was stripped of Medicaid funding in Louisiana and Kansas.
The high court’s decision leaves in place rulings that allow Planned Parenthood affiliates in those states to continue receiving Medicaid funding.