News Politics

Goodbye, Texas Women’s Health Program

Andrea Grimes

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Texas lawmakers, as many as 400,000 Texas women will have no or greatly reduced access to basic preventative and reproductive health care beginning today.

For all our coverage of the cuts to the Texas Women’s Health Program, click here.

On March 14th, 2012, at least 300,000 low-income and uninsured Texas women will have no or greatly-reduced access to basic preventive and reproductive health care due to the loss of federal funding for the Medicaid Women’s Health Program in the state. The program has been under threat for months as lawmakers fight over whether it’s legal to exclude Planned Parenthood from the program.

On Friday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters in Houston that the federal government would not extend its waiver, which provided about 90 percent of the cost of the program. It is against federal law to exclude “qualified providers” from providing Medicaid care, and while the federal government considers Planned Parenthood “qualified,” the state of Texas does not. Since 2005, legislators in Texas have sought specifically to block Planned Parenthood from participating in the Women’s Health Program in Texas, when they voted into place a state law, only just now enforced, that bars “affiliates” of abortion providers from receiving funds. Planned Parenthood uses no taxpayer dollars to provide abortions and keeps its abortion services wholly financially separate from its non-abortion services.

In a statement released Friday, Governor Rick Perry’s office stuck the Obama administration with the blame for not renewing the Women’s Health Program, neglecting to mention that there would be no reason to defund the program had Perry and his conservative allies in Texas not sought to defy federal law in the first place. Perry has said that Texas will continue to fund what would very likely amount to a significantly stripped-down version of the program with state funds–despite the fact that state legislators already devastated the state family planning budget last year.

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“We’re questioning the governor saying he’s going to continue the funding with state money,” Planned Parenthood of North Texas representative Kelly Hart told Rewire, “and why the state would want to go forward to spend more money to provide care to fewer women.” Hart says Planned Parenthood expects to be able to provide WHP care until they’re phased out in late April so that “more women can have that last chance to get their annual exam.”

The Center for Public Policy Priorities, based in Austin, has issued a report urging the State of Texas not to make this unnecessary and less effective state-funded move in lieu of continuing to let the program work as it always has. Quite simply, family planning programs don’t need to be fixed because they were not broken.

“Our family planning programs are programs that have high ratings [because] they connect women that are uninsured with basic health care check-ups that go along with their family planning, and [in addition] the sometimes life-saving outcomes that go along with that,” CPPP Associate Director Anne Dunkelberg explained to Rewire.

She adds that, of course, family planning programs also “reduce unintended pregnancies dramatically.” Fewer unintended pregnancies mean fewer abortions.

By seeking to illegally exclude Planned Parenthood from the WHP, the State of Texas has effectively guaranteed a significant reduction in women’s access to basic reproductive care and an increase the number of unintended pregnancies, and thereby abortions.

“One thing about the Medicaid Women’s Health Program is that it promises to serve every qualifying woman who shows up,” said Dunkelberg. A state-funded program would “need to ensure there’s enough funding available to take care of all these women,” and it’s unlikely that Texas could or would do so, particularly because state legislators slashed family planning funds by two-thirds last year. 

The 2011 state family planning cuts left 180,000 women without access to contraception and reproductive health services like cancer screenings. The Women’s Health Program serves an additional 130,000 women, bringing the total number of women without access to basic reproductive health care to 310,000. Some estimates put the number closer to 400,000. The Texas Legislative Budget Board has estimated that this will result in up to 21,000 additional births in the state–children born to families who are already in need of government assistance and who would otherwise have sought to avoid an unintended and unwanted pregnancy.

It’s hard to argue that the Obama administration is to blame for denying health care to hundreds of thousands of Texas women when Gov. Perry and conservative Texas legislators already took these significant, cost-increasing steps last year, despite the widely-accepted reasoning that family planning in Texas saves taxpayers $3.74 for every $1 spent

Conservative lawmakers in Texas have argued that there are plenty of alternatives to Planned Parenthood in Texas, like Federally Qualified Health Centers and small-scale providers, though an Rewire investigation conducted by this author last year revealed that the “alternatives” only operate as such for a very small, very mobile group of women. Without Planned Parenthood, which has the resources to provide comprehensive reproductive health care to a large number of patients in many, many locations across the state, women are left with long waits, at non-specialized clinics and, if they don’t have cars or time off from work, difficulty accessing the care that may only be available counties away from their home and work.

Kelly Hart at Planned Parenthood of North Texas told us:

“Yes, there are a large number of providers that have been part of the Women’s Health Program that have been reimbursed for providing care, but the vast majority of them see less than 25 patients a year.”

A given Planned Parenthood clinic may see hundreds or thousands.

At a rally held for Planned Parenthood in Austin last week, interim CEO Sarah Wheat told Rewire that their patients in the WHP were upset, frightened and angry that they could lose their access to reproductive care–and this was before the official ruling.

One of those patients is Delia Henry, an Austin woman in nursing school. “I don’t know what my next step will be if the program is cut,” said Henry, a WHP who says she goes to Planned Parenthood for contraception, annual exams and screenings. She says she worries about women who rely on WHP who are already mothers.

“You’re taking a chance on kids’ moms, what are they going to do?” she asked. A non-traditional student, Henry says many of her classmates are just out of high school. “They work jobs but not enough hours to get insurance, what are they going to do? This is a great part of their life and they’re not going to have that education and that safety net,” that Planned Parenthood provides.

Facing the fact that her access to reproductive care may disappear, Henry made a joke that may be unfunny because it’s true: “If you talk to me at another time, I guess I’ll be pregnant.”

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.