Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Texas 'de-funding' of Planned Parenthood to shutter women's health centers

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2011 at 6:09 PM

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An ideological clash at the Capitol this year wreaked havoc on state-funded measures to prevent unplanned pregnancies. While the clear goal was to punish Planned Parenthood, they’re not the only ones who are going to feel the pain.

The 2012-2013 state budget effectively guts state family planning money to the tune of some $70 million less than the $111 million currently spent on such programs, while also creating a new “priority” system for allocating those funds, directing the Department of State Health Services to dole out family-planning money first to public entities and Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers.

After that, private groups that provide comprehensive care can take a piece. Planned Parenthood and other private family planning centers are kicked to the back of the line, where they’re unlikely to see a cent of the dismal amount left in state family planning coffers.

The cuts are so deep that the Legislative Budget Board estimates that nearly 300,000 low-income and uninsured Texas women could lose basic care, including screenings for breast and cervical cancer. Expect unplanned pregnancies to shoot up an extra 20,000 each year, the analysis says, costing more than $200 million in additional Medicaid costs.

Jeffrey Hons, President and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, said, “The result is all bad – more abortions, and more families who will look to the government for public assistance. There is nothing smart here. This is bad politics winning over wise policy.”

What’s more, language currently being drafted by the state’s Health and Human Services Commission is also expected to block Planned Parenthood from of the state’s Women’s Health Program, a Medicaid-waiver program that saves Texas over $40 million every year by providing basic contraceptive and healthcare to thousands of uninsured and low-income women. Planned Parenthood currently serves roughly 40 percent of the women in the program.

Planned Parenthood says Texas is poised to clash head-on with the federal Health and Human Services Department, which recently rejected similar measures to de-fund the organization in Indiana. A federal judge sided with Planned Parenthood in Indiana last week, blocking the implementation of a recently passed state law excluding the group from the Medicaid program.

“We’re watching the situation in Indiana closely,” Geoff Wool, a spokesman with the Texas Heath and Human Services Commission, said this week. “We recognize the similarities to what’s going on in Texas, but each situation is different, and we’re moving forward to do what we need to do.

In all, anti-abortion groups pride themselves in prodding lawmakers this year to make Texas the largest state to, in practice, de-fund Planned Parenthood. “Family planning dollars are a revenue stream for the abortion industry,“ said Elizabeth Graham, president of Texas Right to Life. “[Lawmakers] rightly put in restrictions to make sure that family planning agencies and organizations not in the abortion business would be eligible for family planning dollars first, leaving abortion providers as the last level of priority.”

But at the close of the 82nd Legislature, Martha Zuniga, executive director of South Texas Family Planning & Health Corporation, said, “I guess only a miracle can save us.”

South Texas Family Planning’s six clinics stretch across a broad swath of rural South Texas, providing comprehensive family planning services, as well as cervical and breast cancer screenings, to over 8,000 low-income and uninsured women and men each year. And under the new funding scheme for family-planning dollars, South Texas Family Planning has been kicked to the bottom rung, unlikely to see any state money even though none of its clinics provide abortion services. The non-profit will likely shutter all of its clinics, cutting off access to thousands, Zuniga said.

Those thousands won’t easily be absorbed by other providers, which are stretched and sparse in rural South Texas, Zuniga said, adding, “What you’ll see is the higher risk of unintended pregnancy and those going without other necessary services, like cancer screenings.”

"The 82nd Legislature is going to wind up being the Legislature that helped Planned Parenthood and abortion providers in Texas get more clients and expand their business," Zuniga said. “Agencies like ours that have nothing to do with abortion, we’ll be closed because of what [lawmakers] have done."

“We’re the casualties of war.”

- Michael Barajas, mbarajas@sacurrent.com

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