In a rare victory for reproductive health advocates in Texas, the federal government has awarded a three-year Title X family planning grant not to the Department of State Health Services, but to the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas (WHFPT), a network of individual providers and clinics that specialize in reproductive health care. It is the first step in rebuilding the state’s family planning infrastructure, which has been significantly weakened by conservative lawmakers on a political crusade against Planned Parenthood.
“This is going to be such a sea change in Texas,” WHFPT CEO Fran Hagerty told Rewire. “We expect so many positive things, both immediately and in the long term.”
WHFPT’s federal Title X grant application was a kind of Hail Mary pass—a challenge to the will of Republican Gov. Rick Perry and conservative legislators, who decimated the state’s existing family planning infrastructure in the 2011 legislative session and reserved the bulk of family planning funds for inefficient, unspecialized primary care clinics in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The result? Dozens of non-Planned Parenthood family planning clinics closed, fewer Texans had access to reproductive health care, and the state spent more money serving fewer clients than ever.
Planned Parenthood clinics are among the health-care providers that applied for the grant under the WHFPT, a group of 34 contractors at 121 clinics statewide.
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In hopes of remedying some of the damage done by the Republican legislature, Hagerty’s group included a “rebuilding fund” into its grant application so that clinics in underserved and rural areas, which were forced to close or drastically reduce their hours and staff last year, can reopen or increase services.
“That’s a pot of money where we can help these organizations restart and rebuild clinics that were closed,” Hagerty said. “Our hope is that by the end of the three-year funding cycle, we can repair the majority of what has been destroyed.”
With the estimated $13 million each year WHFPT was awarded, Hagerty anticipates the coalition seeing almost double the number of clients that the Department of State Health Services had projected; she conservatively estimates 160,000 clients served annually, compared to the state’s 65,000. That’s because WHFPT does not have to adhere to the state’s inefficient, tiered funding structure, which was created specifically to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving funds. Officially, Texas considers Planned Parenthood an abortion “affiliate,” despite the fact that no Texas Planned Parenthood clinics that receive any public funds perform abortions.
“Basically, the state has been giving the bulk of the money to the wrong people,” said Hagerty. “They threw out all the highest [volume] providers, and many of them closed down and all of them reduced hours.”
The Department of State Health Services has managed Texas’ Title X funding for over 30 years. It released the following statement upon the announcement that, beginning April 1, it will no longer be in charge of doling out the state’s federal family planning dollars:
“We received notice that the federal award to us will end in a few days, and we’re reviewing the information to get a sense of the full impact. We have a long history with these dollars and have been dedicated to using them to maximize family planning services for women in Texas. Our hope is that the provider base remains healthy and that any transition is smooth for those who need services.”
Hagerty said she and her group have a good relationship with the Department of State Health Services and that she’s looking forward to making “the very best things happen from this situation.” In fact, Hagerty said, this is the first time she’s felt hopeful in a long time.
“This is the best piece of news that I’ve had in a very long time,” said Hagerty. “It’s going to be a long road, but it’s going uphill, not downhill.”