Low-Income Women, Texas and the Abortion Debate

Remember last year when Texas lost nearly 90% of funding for its Women’s Health Program because Governor Rick Perry didn’t want Texas women using Planned Parenthood for basic healthcare services, such as breast and cervical cancer screenings?

Last year Texas implemented a law that excluded abortion provider affiliates, (essentially, Planned Parenthood) from receiving taxpayer dollars. This includes any clinics associated with, even if only by “name, employee or board member,” an organization that provides abortions.

This violated federal Medicaid rules, which do not allow states to exclude qualified family planning providers such as Planned Parenthood.

Texas didn’t back down and lost nearly 90% of funding for its Women’s Health Program.

Perry vowed to keep the program alive through state funding and claimed that there were plenty of healthcare providers ready to take Planned Parenthood’s place.

It is worth noting that Texas cut $73.6 million in funding for women’s health and family planning programs the previous year, and Planned Parenthood provided services to nearly 44% of the 130,000 low-income women served by the Women’s Health Program.

Perry blamed the Obama Administration.

Health and Human Services spoke out, “Medicaid law is very clear; a state may not restrict patients’ choice of providers of services like mammograms and other cancer screenings, if those providers are qualified to deliver care covered by Medicaid.  Patients, not state government officials, should be able to choose the doctors and other health care providers that are best for them and their families. In 2005, Texas requested this same authority to restrict patients’ choices, and the Bush Administration did not grant it to them either.”

Planned Parenthood fought back in court, but in a victorious ruling for Texas lawmakers,  a judge ruled against the organization’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed for its participation in the program.

In more recent news, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a Planned Parenthood defunding case in Indiana. The justices have left the lower courts’ decision, which ruled it illegal to withhold Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood, intact.

So, what’s going on with the Texas Women’s Health Program today?

In January of 2013 the state took over the Women’s Health Program and started out with a glaring mistake. In an attempt to provide a comprehensive list of providers, a severely inaccurate listing appeared on the program’s website.

It will take months, if not years, to evaluate the effectiveness of the state-run program, but the tide may have turned in the legislature this season.

Texans are feeling the effects of Planned Parenthood directed attacks and family planning funding cuts. The NY Times reports:

As a direct result, 117 Texas family-planning clinics stopped receiving state financing and 56 of those clinics closed, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin who are conducting a three-year study to evaluate the Legislature’s policy changes.

The researchers estimate that 144,000 fewer women received health services and 30,000 fewer unintended pregnancies were averted in 2012 than in 2010. The state’s savings from the programs dropped by an estimated $163 million.

Officials are enduring the backlash of voters and are working together to restore the balance – and the budget.

I can only hope that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will continue to work together to repair what’s been lost. Next time, and there will be a next time, the Texas Women’s Health Program should serve as a reminder that real women, and their basic healthcare needs, are at the center of the abortion debate.

Sometimes lawmakers and citizens alike forget that while elected officials debate ideological differences, it is often low-income women, many of whom do not have the luxury of time, that suffer on both sides of this uncompromising debate.

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