News Health Systems

Without Planned Parenthood, What’s Left for Texas Women? Not Much.

Andrea Grimes

Rewire Texas reporter Andrea Grimes searches, in vain, for a pap smear among the providers the state of Texas says should be available to provide one.

People in favor of a Texas-funded Women’s Health Program that excludes Planned Parenthood as a provider frequently claim that there are plenty of other places that Texas women enrolled in the WHP can get the same or better reproductive health care that they get at Planned Parenthood. The Department of Health and Human Services even provides a searchable database on their website. So I searched for WHP providers within thirty miles of the zip code 78702, which contains a busy Austin Planned Parenthood clinic that would not be able to see WHP patients if the new rules are adopted and enforced. That search returned 181 results. Does that mean it returned 181 gynecologists ready to see Medicaid patients? Not at all. It returned results like the Austin Endoscopy Center.

Operator: Uh, do you realize you’re calling the Austin Endoscopy Center?
Rewire: You guys are listed on their list of Medicaid Women’s Health Providers, so this is incorrect?

Operator: So you are wanting to schedule a screening colonoscopy?

Rewire: No, I’m trying to get a well-woman exam. Obviously I’ve called the wrong place.
Operator: Okay, we are an endoscopy center. [laughs] If you want a colonoscopy, call us back.

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Rewire: Sure, thanks.

Operator: Bye-bye.

Nearly six hours of those kinds of conversations later, I found 13 clinics or doctors that take the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. Thirteen. Not 181. Why? Because 92 of the state’s listings are duplicates. Others are radiology associates and labs and pediatricians and even closed clinics. Others just plain don’t take Medicaid. At all. Here’s a sampling of what my afternoon sounded like.

Balcones OBGYN Operator: Balcones OBGYN?

Rewire: Hi, I was calling to find out if you guys take the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

Balcones OBGYN Operator: No ma’am, we don’t.

Austin Radiological Association Operator: What kind of exam were you trying to schedule?

Rewire: A pap smear.

Austin Radiological Association Operator: Oh, we don’t do pap smears here.

Rewire: I was calling to find out if you guys take the Medicaid Women’s Health Program?
Martha Schmitz, MD Operator: We actually do not.

Rewire: You don’t take it. You guys are on their list of providers that they have.
Martha Schmitz, MD Operator: We do, but at this time we’re not accepting. We have too many to handle.

Austin Women’s Clinic Operator: Hello? How can I help you?

Rewire: I was calling to find out if you guys take the Medicaid Women’s Health Program?

Austin Women’s Clinic Operator: I’m sorry, we don’t take Women’s Health.

Rewire: Okay. You guys are listed as a provider on their website. Austin Women’s Clinic Operator: Yeah, I’ve been told we are and I don’t know why, but we really need to fix that. I really do apologize.

Rewire: Okay, thanks anyway.

Rewire: Do you guys take that [WHP]?

Harold D. Lewis Family Practice Operator: He actually does not, he is not contracted with that program.

Community Care in Manor, TX Operator: I don’t think we do. We don’t take the Title X or the Women’s Health.

Oakwood Surgery Center Operator: Well, we’re an ambulatory surgical center? So if you had to have surgery that was prescribed by the doctor, then that could be done here because we do accept Medicaid.

Rewire: But you don’t do pap smears or anything like that?

Oakwood Surgery Center Operator: No ma’am, we do not. That’s something you would want to address with an OB-GYN.

Of the 13 providers that could actually see a Medicaid Women’s Health Program patient, the thirteenth is a forty minute drive from East Austin. And that’s with no traffic. And if you live in Austin, you know there’s no such thing as no traffic. By public transportation it would take over two hours to get to that clinic. And that’s with a half mile walk at the end. Excluding Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program absolutely reduces access to quality care. Full stop. Already, the state has demonstrated that the systems it says it has in place to support women without Planned Parenthood don’t work. Trying to get low-income, quality reproductive health care in Texas, in a major metropolitan area like Austin, without Planned Parenthood is like trying to get a pap smear at a colonoscopy clinic. And I know because I actually tried.

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.