By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The leaders of Texas Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge on Tuesday to block the state's bid to halt Medicaid funding for the healthcare group, which has long been targeted by Republicans for providing abortions.
Planned Parenthood has said the threatened funding cut, by terminating Planned Parenthood's enrollment in the state-funded healthcare system for the poor, could affect nearly 11,000 patients across Texas.
It is seeking an injunction from Judge Sam Sparks in federal court in Austin to stop the cutoff, the latest twist in a protracted legal and political fight.
Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization's funding since an anti-abortion group released videos that it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.
The defunding efforts could gain traction now that Republicans, who already control the U.S. House and Senate, are expanding their powers with this week's inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.
Ken Lambrecht, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and a plaintiff in the suit, testified his group does not participate in fetal tissue donation for medical research.
Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing nationally, saying the videos were heavily edited and misleading.
The Medicaid cut was "unconscionable," Lambrecht told Sparks, adding that it would make it more difficult for some of the state's poorest people to access services his affiliate provides, such as cancer screenings, birth control and HIV testing.
Texas has said that other medical facilities could provide similar services as Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received a total of $4.2 million in Medicaid funding during the 2015 fiscal year, the state's Health and Human Services Commission said.
None of that money went to abortions, plaintiffs in the suit against Texas and the Medicaid defunding plan have said.
"The state's main objection is the information in the videos," Sparks said at the start of the hearing. He later added, however, that he does not see the videos as a central to the hearing, which opened Tuesday and is scheduled to run through Thursday
Texas investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos and a grand jury last January cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two people who made the videos for document fraud.
The state took no further criminal action against Planned Parenthood after that but has repeated its accusations that the abortion provider may have violated state law.
Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million annually in federal funds across the United States, largely in reimbursements through Medicaid.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)