The Texas attorney general says taxpayer dollars cannot go to organizations that perform elective abortions -- even if the money is not used for abortions.
Attorney General Greg Abbott issued the opinion in response to a July 23, 2010, letter from state Sen. Robert F. Deuell. Deuell, also a doctor, asked if it was constitutional to enter into contracts with entities that perform or promote elective abortions or are affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions.
Abbott said Thursday that Texas law states the Health and Human Services Commission "may not contract with entities that are affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions."
In 2005, the state created a funding source for women's health care services. Under the rules of the project, the money could be spent for medical assistance to low-income women but could not be used for entities that perform or promote elective abortions.
Deuell said he learned that the department had given money to groups that perform or promote elective abortions, including Planned Parenthood of North Texas.
He sent a letter to Albert Hawkins, who was then the executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission, in 2009. Deuell said Hawkins acknowledged that nearly $5 million had been paid to 12 different Planned Parenthood entities "for services associated with the women's health program."
Hawkins said that, for legal reasons, his department wasn't able to "fully implement the prohibition against contracting with an organization that is an affiliate of an entity that performs or promotes elective abortions."
Hawkins said his legal staff advised him that banning those groups would likely be deemed as unconstitutional by the courts, citing several previous court decisions on similar situations.
In an interview last year, Deuell disagreed it would be unconstitutional to no give money to the groups. He said the prior court decisions dealt with the eligibility of providers on the federal level, not the Medicaid funding level.
"This is obviously a letter from somebody who doesn't like our organization," Planned Parenthood of North Texas spokeswoman Holly Morgan said last year of Deuell's letter.
Deuell said he didn't like Planned Parenthood, but his dislike was not his "motivating factor."
"Just because I'm pro-life, it doesn't take away my credibility as a physician," he said. "They need to address the fact that they don't provide more comprehensive health care."
Morgan was not immediately available for reaction Thursday evening on the attorney general's decision.
Deuell is a practicing family physician and part of a medical group in Greenville. He also used to be medical director for a federally qualified health clinic there.
His practice could benefit financially from Thursday decision and could get a bigger piece of the pie available to groups such as his.
"I'm trying to set up a system of family planning that's more complex than giving birth control pills and testing for STDs, which is what Planned Parenthood does," Deuell said.
"We need comprehensive care," he said. "My approach is to put this money in comprehensive clinics so they get more care."
When asked if he agreed with some that elective abortions are part of comprehensive care for women, Deuell said, "No. Abortions are not medical."
"I'm pro-life and would never refer someone for elective abortion, but if it was to save a mother's life, I could definitely do that," he said.