West Texas Planned Parenthood center to close as a result of Women’s Health Program cuts
By next week, more than 2,500 low-income women living in Odessa will be forced to go elsewhere for basic reproductive and family planning care. The West Texas Planned Parenthood center’s upcoming closure marks the first of likely many casualties as a result of the soon to be cut Medicaid-based Women’s Health Program (WHP). The federal program–which serves more than 124,000 poor Texas women each year–hangs on the chopping block as state officials on Thursday signed a rule blocking Planned Parenthood and abortion affiliates from receiving the funds–a move that violates federal law but is defended as “constitutional” by the state, as the Texas Independent reported. Nearly half of WHP recipients use Planned Parenthood for services, making it the single largest provider of reproductive care within the program.
About 71 percent of the Odessa branch’s clients rely on the WHP for breast and cervical cancer screenings, pap smears, STD testing and treatment and birth control services–those women are now being turned away from potentially life saving services directly because of the state’s decision to forgo the program in order to prevent funds from going toward abortion providers. But, the Odessa center–like the eleven other Planned Parenthood locations that have shuttered since September due to separate, massive family planning cuts made this session–does not offer abortions, points out Planned Parenthood of West Texas CEO and President Karen Pieper Hildebrand.
“We don’t offer abortion services. The only outcome of Gov. Perry’s decision will be increasing the number of unintended pregnancies, STDs and ultimately, abortions,” said Hildebrand.
In fact, while Texas Health and Human Services–backed by an Attorney General ruling–has made clear they refuse to allow abortion providers to receive WHP funds, Medicaid is not allowed to pay for abortions, creating an ideological contradiction many are finding hard to swallow. The ultimate victim, Planned Parenthood representatives say, will not be abortion clinics but extremely poor, uninsured women unable to access preventative health care. For instance, the average woman relying on WHP often works more than one job and makes less than $3,000 a month for her family of three.
Sarah Wheat, co-interim CEO of Planned Parenthood Texas Capital Region, clarifies that WHP money cannot go toward abortion services. Deliberate misinformation by an extremist anti-choice agenda is fueling the argument, said Wheat.
“The Texas taxpayer should know the program does not fund abortions and never has. These services cannot be offered at a health center that provides abortions–the claim that they do is patently untrue,” said Wheat. “Texas has a very clear ban on using taxpayer money on abortions.”
In a memo addressed to all states, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) reiterated the point Medicaid doesn’t cover abortions but cannot omit health care providers who offer them, reported the Texas Tribune in June. They warned states that fail to comply would most likely lose the funds altogether. In Texas, the WHP rule would take effect March 14–granting the federal government and the state just two weeks to officially end Texas funding or come to a compromise.
A CMS spokesperson said they are in talks with the state but are reluctant to address the issue in the interim.
“We are in contact with state officials but can’t speculate at this point,” spokesperson Alper Ozinal told the Texas Independent.
Meanwhile, a growing chorus of outraged observers are pushing back via online action. A Web-based petition urging Gov. Rick Perry and Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs to, “stop playing politics with the lives and health of Texas women,” has garnered more than 3,000 signatures so far. The letter reminds state officials that for every $1 invested in family planning programs, Texas taxpayers save $4 in Medicaid costs related to unintended pregnancies. If the WHP ends, Texas taxpayers will be “left footing the bill.”
“I think what we’ll see in the next couple of weeks is thousands of people calling on the governor to retreat and placing pressure on the administration to save this critical program,” said Amanda Harrington of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“The issue is getting national attention because we keep seeing Texas make the wrong choices when it comes to women’s health every chance they get,” added Harrington, alluding to the recent enforcement of the state’s pre-abortion ultrasound law and the state’s inclusion in a joint lawsuit over a federal contraceptive mandate.
While the criticism mounts and other centers brace for possible cuts, the Odessa location illustrates the real-life consequences of placing the program in jeopardy. After serving women for more than four decades, it plans to close its doors March 9. Hildebrand notes that since it was founded with strong community support in 1966 the center is facing cuts today that harken back to an era much earlier in the 20th century.
“Women should be outraged, they should find their voice and stand up and fight against these policies that are so clearly regressive and harmful to women’s access to basic health care,” said Hildebrand.