Fifty-nine percent of likely Texas voters oppose Gov. Rick Perry's efforts to keep Planned Parenthood out of the joint state-federal Women's Health Program, while 38 percent approve, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling.
But the poll — released as the reproductive health program circles the drain — is likely to have critics. It was sponsored by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics currently provide reproductive health care for 40 percent of the low-income women in the program.
And some of the language in the poll questions is hotly debated by Republican lawmakers and abortion opponents, who say they are following federal law — not breaking it — by excluding from the Medicaid waiver program Planned Parenthood and other clinics under the same organizational umbrella as abortion providers.
The Obama administration says excluding Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program violates the Social Security Act, and that states may not restrict access to health providers simply because they provide other services Medicaid doesn't cover. No clinics receiving Women's Health Program dollars perform abortions — it's strictly prohibited — but nothing prevents them from referring a woman to a facility that does.
With both sides refusing to budge, the five-year-old program, which serves more than 130,000 women a year, is likely to expire at the end of March.
Public Policy Polling's survey of 562 likely Texas voters last week found that women strongly opposed the effort to keep Planned Parenthood out of the program, 57 percent to 37 percent. According to the poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.1 percent, more than half of Texas voters view Perry and other state lawmakers' response to the Women's Heatlh Program unfavorably.
"Texas voters are sending a clear message to Governor Perry: they think the Women’s Health Program is important and that he should leave it alone," wrote Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling. "And they think it’s wrong to use Planned Parenthood as a political piñata and deny low-income women access to critical cancer screenings, birth control and screenings for diabetes and hypertension."
The poll questions, however, seem to lay the blame for the near-demise of the program at Texas lawmakers' feet. For example, they say that a "new Texas rule will end the Medicaid Women's Health Program altogether." Abortion opponents argue it's the Obama administration that is ending the program by refusing to withstand the Texas rule.
The questions also say that "under longstanding federal law, states cannot discriminate against women who choose Planned Parenthood as their health care provider," which is the Obama administration's firm argument. Abortion opponents say federal courts, as well as Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, have ruled that abortion providers and non-abortion providers operating under the same corporate umbrella violate a federal ban on the use of federal funds for abortions.
“It is time for the Obama administration to stop playing politics with women’s health and approve the Texas women’s health waiver," Comptroller Susan Combs said in a statement on Monday. "This specialized Medicaid program, which provides preventative health services to women, saves lives and money. The waiver also allows Texas leaders to design cost-effective health delivery strategies rather than being forced to accept the Obama administration's approach to healthcare.”