News Law and Policy

Hearing on Planned Parenthood and Texas’ Women’s Health Program Pits Science, Health Against Ideology

Andrea Grimes

Yesterday in a packed auditorium at the Texas Department of State Health Services, legislators, doctors and other supporters of Planned Parenthood gathered to speak out--sometimes through tears--against proposed rules that would bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the state's Women's Health Program.

Read the rest of Andrea’s coverage of women’s health issues in Texas here and the rest of our coverage on the Texas Women’s Health Program here.

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.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.