On New Year’s Eve, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the State is not constitutionally obligated to pay for abortions for poor women who may need the procedure due to health reasons. The court held that the restriction on Medicaid funding for abortions does not violate the constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment – and reversed a previous ruling from the Texas Court of Appeals.
"To deny poor pregnant women certain medically necessary health services while providing all medically necessary health services to men is illegal sex discrimination," said Bonnie Scott Jones, a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights who represents the plaintiffs. "This is a devastating decision that now forces women in Texas to endure unnecessary health risks."
On December 7, 2000, the Court of Appeals for the Third District of Texas ruled in the Center's favor and struck down the Medicaid funding ban as sex discrimination, prompting an appeal from the State. The Court of Appeals reasoned that by imposing a heightened eligibility standard (rape, incest or life endangerment) on care sought only by women while subjecting all care sought by men to a "medically necessary" standard, the ban discriminates against women. The Court of Appeals further held that such sex discrimination cannot be justified by any of the goals of the Texas Medicaid program.
Tuesday’s ruling from the Texas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and upheld the funding ban. The Supreme Court held that although Texas’ Medicaid program denies women equality, it does not do so because they are women. The court rejected the Center's additional privacy challenge under the Texas Constitution, holding that the funding ban leaves poor women no worse off than they would be if there were no Medicaid program, and therefore does not violate their privacy rights.
Courts in almost three quarters of the states to have considered such challenges, including New Mexico, have struck down similar funding bans as violating their own independent state constitutions.
Plaintiffs in Eric M. Bost, Commissioner of Human Services v. Low Income Women of Texas include three physicians who provide reproductive health services, including abortion, the Fairmount Center (Dallas), Reproductive Services (Austin), and Routh Street Women’s Clinic (Dallas). They are represented by Bonnie Scott Jones of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and local cooperating attorney Catherine A. Mauzy.