Yesterday, in a packed auditorium at the Texas Department of State Health Services, legislators and supporters of Planned Parenthood in Texas gathered to speak out against proposed rules that would bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the state’s Women’s Health Program, through which PP-Texas has provided the lion’s share of family planning services to low-income women. The new rules are fueled by right-wing lawmakers who want to forgo the available 90 percent of federal funding for the program in order to keep Planned Parenthood–and any other so-called “abortion affiliate”–from providing care via the WHP.
“This is not the better course for a program that is this important,” Texas Sen. Kirk Watson told a panel of DSHS officials. Watson and a group of 24 other Democratic lawmakers requested the public hearing, with Watson calling out DSHS for a “lack of transparency” at yesterday’s meeting. DSHS told Rewire that they called the hearing at the request of lawmakers and also as the result of an online petition from Planned Parenthood supporters.
While a law banning abortion affiliates has been on the books in Texas since 2005, DSHS began enforcing the law this year, excluding the largest provider of WHP services in the state: Planned Parenthood.
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“Preventing Planned Parenthood from participating in the Women’s Health Program forces thousands of women to seek alternative providers at the very time we significantly cut the family planning budget in the state,” argued Texas Rep. Donna Howard, referring to the separate but significant cuts in family planning made in 2011.
At the nearly four-hour meeting, forty speakers, including University of Texas reproductive health researchers and community clinic doctors not affiliated with Planned Parenthood, argued in favor of the group’s continued participation in the WHP. Many women spoke through tears about the exams and screenings at Planned Parenthood that had saved them from cervical cancer or allowed them to hold down jobs and school responsibilities when they were struggling to make ends meet.
“It’s really degrading, sitting in a doctor’s office trying to make a decision on whether to pay your utility bill or get medical treatment,” testified one Planned Parenthood supporter. Another spoke up for the accessibility of Planned Parenthood, which could see her more quickly than her regular doctor, at whose office she couldn’t afford to get the treatment she needed.
“Even a week can feel like a really long time when you’re wondering if you have cancer,” said the woman.
Others took more logistical approaches, citing the obvious financial benefits of maintaining a funding structure that tremendously benefits money-strapped Texas. If it excludes Planned Parenthood from the program, Texas is responsible for funding 100 percent of a program it had previously only funded at 10 percent–and officials have said they believe they can provide the same quality of care, despite the state’s budget woes. That didn’t jibe with speaker Sheila Sorvari.
“For all of us who are paying attention and can basically do the math, it’s clear the money doesn’t add up,” she said in an impassioned and occasionally sarcastic speech that drew wild applause from the audience. “I don’t know what’s wrong with our legislators that they’ve decided that facts and data and logic no longer have a place in Texas.”
Sorvari also didn’t buy the line that excluding Planned Parenthood from the WHP wouldn’t affect access to providers
“Offer everyone a door-to-door car service,” she suggested to DSHS, if women were now going to be asked to avoid the Planned Parenthood clinics closest to their homes.
A handful of anti-Planned Parenthood speakers attended the meeting, including notorious Planned Parenthood defector Abby Johnson, who has made a career out of her role as a former clinic director.
“There are no doctors at Planned Parenthood health centers,” she said, claiming that Planned Parenthood provides Medicaid-funded abortions on demand at every clinic. She gave her speech over murmers of a crowd quietly grumbling and contradicting her at every opportunity.
The final minutes of the meeting were dominated by anti-Planned Parenthood speakers who took the opportunity to rail not only against abortion but against the evils of birth control.
“It’s synthetic,” said one woman, who said she didn’t understand why women would poison their bodies with contraception. Another woman said she knew abortion was wrong because, as a sidewalk protestor outside abortion clinics, she’d seen women who’d just gotten abortions and “they don’t look very good at all.”
Most everyone who spoke thanked DSHS for hearing their concerns, especially Scott Braddock, a Texas broadcast journalist who spoke out in favor of Planned Parenthood, which he said had saved his friend’s life.
“Can you hear me?” Braddock said into the auditorium’s microphone. “Because there are too many women not being heard here.”