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Anti-Abortion Advocates Counter Planned Parenthood Media Blitz

As Planned Parenthood travels the state by bus to defend its Women's Health Program funding, anti-abortion advocates gathered in Austin to blast the organization.

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Countering Planned Parenthood's statewide bus tour to defend its status as a beneficiary of the Women's Health Program, leaders from several Texas pregnancy resource centers held a news conference Thursday in Austin to say that the program should move forward without Planned Parenthood.

“It’s wonderful for Texas because we only pay 10 percent of the cost,” Carol Everett, CEO of the Heidi Group, said of the program. “And yet the Obama administration is sacrificing the health of Texas women by saying that if we do not include abortion providers, the entire program will be scrapped. So what does the Obama administration care about? It's not Texas women.”

Everett, a former abortion provider who is now a leading voice in the anti-abortion movement in Texas, said she doesn’t buy Planned Parenthood’s assertions that its federal funding is only spent on preventive services. Nor does she believe the legal separation of their family-planning and abortion services in Texas makes a difference in whether they should be part of the program.

“They share in the overhead,” she said. “If a woman has endometriosis, Planned Parenthood cannot treat her. … If they want to change and provide comprehensive care, they too can be included — and stop doing abortions.”

Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region co-CEO Sarah Wheat said Everett's statement "reflects a lack of understanding of how the health care system works, particularly in Texas where there are so many uninsured women."

"If a woman has endometriosis, she probably has spotting and cramps, so if she came to Planned Parenthood, we can help her identify birth control that might help her. Secondly, if she needed additional medical follow-up or diagnostics, we would provide her with medical referrals," Wheat said, adding that Planned Parenthood remains a leading provider of clinical breast exams in the country. "We’re that frontline screening [for breast and cervical cancer]. That’s why we have clients who say Planned Parenthood saved their life.”

The Women’s Health Program is in danger of losing federal funding after the federal government refused to allow the state to exclude Planned Parenthood from the program, which funds cancer screenings and birth control for 130,000 low-income Texans.

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry said that no matter what happens with the federal government funding – which spends $9 for every $1 the state spends on the $4o million program — the program would continue.

In fiscal year 2010, the Health and Human Services Commission reported that 46 percent of the program’s clients were served by Planned Parenthood providers and 44 percent of payments went to the organization for its preventive services, including birth control, STD testing and cancer screenings. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has told the state that prohibiting some providers would limit access to health care — a violation of the Social Security Act. But speakers at Thursday’s news conference disagreed with that stance.

Various leaders from crisis pregnancy centers in Waco, Killeen, San Antonio and Austin said their programs have helped thousands of expectant mothers by providing them with a nurturing environment and robust referral services to local doctors who can help them carry through with their pregnancies.

Because these centers do not provide medical services outside of limited ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, they do not receive money from the Women’s Health Program. Most are privately funded, but some receive state funding from the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which is dedicated to services other than abortions.

To them, the controversy over the program is a chance to “lift the veil” on a common belief that Planned Parenthood is “deceptive” in its practices, because it refers women to physicians for serious medical issues, does not provide mammogram services for breast cancer testing (only screenings) and offers family-planning services in some facilities that also perform abortions.

“I question how much they really want to help women,” said Sarah Stone, the executive director of the Pregnancy Care Center in San Antonio.

“They’re a waste of taxpayer dollars,” added Terry Williams, the director of Central Texas Life Care. “The message being conveyed by the Planned Parenthood media blitz is missing the point that women will have an elevated standard of health care."

The group said that if the Women’s Health Program is dissolved, communities would pull together to fill any void, just as their centers have helped women become responsible mothers. They said health centers and doctors who can provide "more comprehensive" services are available to replace Planned Parenthood, even though those providers also saw their family-planning funds drastically reduced by the Legislature last year.

“I think the communities and the church will step up. There’ll be a renewed effort to help those women. We shouldn’t be strong-armed into letting abortion providers continue to accept taxpayer money,” said Deborah McGregor, the head of Care Net Pregnancy Centers of Central Texas.

Wheat said that Planned Parenthood and its supporters have heard all these complaints — and they refuse to back down.

“These are groups whose primary mission is to try to shut the doors of Planned Parenthood," she said. "They just shredded the women’s health safety net. The agenda is so extreme. Their rhetoric becomes extreme, too. I think the question is why are they relentlessly trying to block low-income women from being able to access cervical cancer screenings?"

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