By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Planned Parenthood can offer services for now as part of a Texas program for low-income women despite a new state rule that bans money going to affiliates of abortion providers, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday.
The court order from a three-judge panel - which lifts an emergency stay put in place earlier this week - was the latest in a series of alternating legal victories for Planned Parenthood and the state of Texas.
But the court battle over the Texas Women's Health Program is not finished. A hearing is scheduled for May 18 in U.S. District Court in Austin to set a date for a trial.
The Texas battle is among a number of efforts by states governed by Republicans to bar funding for Planned Parenthood, which is the nation's largest provider of abortions.
"Planned Parenthood's doors are open today and they'll be open tomorrow," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.
The Texas program, part of the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and handicapped, provides cancer screenings, birth control and other health services to more than 100,000 women.
It does not pay for abortions or allow abortion providers to participate in the program. The new state rule bans program money from going to affiliates of abortion providers. State law has included that ban on affiliates since the program began in 2007 but the state did not enforce it.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the family planning organization. Then on Tuesday, 5th U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith granted Texas an emergency stay, allowing the state to ban Planned Parenthood from the program. Friday's 5th U.S. Circuit order by the three-judge panel lifted that stay.
Texas will comply with the court order, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
"Today's developments do not change our concerted effort in coordination with (Texas) Attorney General (Greg) Abbott to 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," Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Governor Rick Perry, said on Friday in an email.
Planned Parenthood said on Tuesday it would keep seeing patients enrolled in the program, although it was unclear whether its clinics would be reimbursed by the government for that care.
Texas notified the federal government last year of its intent to begin enforcing the ban on affiliates, effectively excluding Planned Parenthood from the program.
President Barack Obama's administration has said it will not renew funding for the Texas program because the state was violating federal law by restricting the freedom to choose providers.
The state is suing over that decision. The federal government pays 90 percent of the $33 million-a-year program.
(Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Cooney)