The boards of three regional Planned Parenthood branches — North Texas, Central Texas and the Capital Region — have voted to merge, forming a $29 million-per-year mega-organization with 26 clinics up and down the Interstate 35 corridor.
The merger vote, in the works for more than a year, creates Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the eighth-largest affiliate of the nation’s most ubiquitous reproductive health and abortion provider.
“The timing is right, in terms of looking ahead at the challenges we will face politically, and from a health care standpoint,” said Leslie MacLean, board chairwoman of Planned Parenthood of North Texas. “We felt like it was an obligation to look at all of the options to make us smarter and more efficient.”
It’s estimated that the new regional affiliate, covering 58,000 square miles from Austin to Denton and Fort Worth to Tyler, will serve 120,000 patients in 2013. It will provide birth control for 103,000 people and perform an estimated 8,500 abortions per year, in addition to screening tens of thousands of people for breast and cervical cancers and sexually transmitted infections.
Amid legislative funding cuts and Republican lawmakers set on forcing Planned Parenthood out of Texas, the goal is to make the regional partners more efficient and streamlined, the merger's advocates say. (Following the budget cuts of the last legislative session, the three Planned Parenthood branches in merger talks watched their annual state family-planning funding drop from more than $5 million combined to nothing. Several clinics were forced to close.)
The result, they hope, will be an organization that has deeper pockets — and even more political influence.
"By defunding family planning, the governor and socially conservative lawmakers are not only hurting the women Planned Parenthood serves. They're hurting women across the state," said Ken Lambrecht, who heads Planned Parenthood of North Texas, and will be president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas starting in September under the proposed merger. “We hope this will enable us to be a stronger voice for all of those women."
Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said Planned Parenthood's "sense of entitlement to our tax dollars" is misguided.
"If you are in the business of providing or promoting abortions, then Governor Perry doesn't think we should be in the business of funding your efforts," she said.