After being raped by two men at a young age, Linda Smith turned to Planned Parenthood for emergency medical care, testing and even emotional solace. Now an uninsured adult who still relies on the family planning provider for health care, she said state lawmakers are trying to take away "the one safe place I've had."
At a Capitol press conference this morning, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said her organization, under siege by GOP lawmakers, is asking Texas women to reach out to their representatives: “Stop playing politics with women’s health and start focusing on what you were elected to do, which is fixing the economy," she said.
Planned Parenthood supporters are fuming about three big-ticket Legislative priorities that could have a tremendous effect on the organization's operations in this state: draining funding for family planning health services, passing a measure to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, and getting the governor's signature on the controversial abortion sonogram bill.
Anti-abortion lawmakers say these measures are the best way to curb the practice in Texas, and levy much of the blame for abortions on Planned Parenthood. Anti-abortion groups, including the Texas Alliance for Life and regional chapters of Coalition for Life, responded to Planned Parenthood’s gripes in a letter to senators, asking, “Is Planned Parenthood interested in the health care of Texas women or their bottom line?” They estimate Planned Parenthood has received $17.6 million a biennium from the Women’s Health Program. And “with limited research focused on alternatives,” the groups have identified 752 comprehensive care clinics in Texas that they believe would provide greater access to preventive health care services than Planned Parenthood.
“It’s strictly the ideological positions [of] people … that want to shut down any services for abortion in this country,” said Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso. “This is all just a politically driven issue for them. It has nothing to do with women’s health for them. It has nothing to do with efficiency.”
Ultimately, Richards said, less funding for women’s health care will cause the number of abortions to spike. Most women come to Planned Parenthood looking for birth control but end up receiving basic preventative care — cancer screenings, pap smears, STD testing, etc. — services she said make up 97 percent of those the organization's clinics provide. “This is actually an assault on birth control,” she said.
Because Planned Parenthood is often the first place women turn to for health care, many uninsured women will suffer from a “delay in diagnosis” if funding cuts go through, said Matt Romberg, a Planned Parenthood obstetrician and gynecologist. He worries many more women won't receive early prenatal care or will be diagnosed with cancer at a later stage if they cannot go to a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Planned Parenthood currently helps 90,000 women in Texas through the Women’s Health Program, many of them in rural areas where no other clinic is available, Richards said. She called proposed legislation to force Planned Parenthood out of the Women’s Health Program “nothing short of political blackmail.”
But Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, has said that legally, Planned Parenthood should already be excluded from the program. The Texas attorney general ruled earlier this year that clinics that do not provide abortions, but are associated with clinics that do, should be prohibited from participating. A bill clarifying that exclusion is awaiting approval in the Senate.
If the bill passes and Planned Parenthood successfully sues to overturn it, a "self-destruct" provision will shut down the entire Women's Health Program. Rodríguez has tried — to no avail — to remove the provision, but Deuell, the author of the bill, has refused to accept the amendment, telling Rodríguez the House will not approve the bill without it.
The House-approved version of the appropriations bill also diverts funding for the Department of State Health Service's family planning services — money used for women's reproductive health care, not abortions — to alternate health care programs also suffering deep budget cuts. The Senate passed a version with less severe cuts to family planning, but members of the House have vowed not to approve the budget when it comes out of conference if that funding is restored.
A pro-Planned Parenthood rally will take over the Texas Capitol grounds later this afternoon. Richards says the Texas Legislature may not back Planned Parenthood, but that national support is "enormously strong." In a recent national poll, Richards said, 65 percent of Americans opposed cutting funds for the organization — which she said means it is "more popular than the Republican party [and] the Democrat party, put together.”