Commentary Health Systems

Texas Republicans Who Dismantled Women’s Health-Care Program Now Trying to Save It With a Concert

Andrea Grimes

The Texas Republicans who defunded Planned Parenthood and kicked the provider out of the state's low-income women's health program are now trying to fix their mistake with a benefit concert.

Texas Republicans dismantled the state’s hugely successful Medicaid Women’s Health Program last year, kicking Planned Parenthood out of its group of health-care providers and turning down a 9-to-1 federal match in funds for contraceptives and cancer screenings for more than 100,000 low-income Texans, because the state didn’t want to contract with an abortion “affiliate.”

Now that enrollment in the replacement health program is down 25 percent, two anti-choice Republican legislators are trying to save the program with—wait for it, y’all—a fundraiser concert with country headliner Sammy Kershaw of “Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer” fame.

They’re not raising money for services, however, because the problem isn’t that the state has too many clients seeking care under the replacement Texas Women’s Health Program; the problem is that the program is losing clients in droves, so state Republicans are raising money for an “awareness campaign” to build a new website, letting Texans know a version of it still exists.

And thus, the benefit concert. As if the fact that tens of thousands of low-income Texans are going without contraception and cancer screenings this year is some cruel accident of fate and not the logical result of deliberate actions taken by the very legislators who are now trying to two-step right over their atrocious record on women’s health care.

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Both Texas state representative Jim Keffer and state senator Jane Nelson have long track records voting against reproductive rights, and Nelson herself personally sponsored the 2011 bill that cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood during a legislative session that saw a two-thirds cut to state family planning funds.

The result of Nelson’s and her colleagues’ efforts? The state lost as a provider an organization that saw nearly half of the program’s clients and had to rebuild a program from scratch using state funds. Despite this, state health officials claimed that capacity would increase, and made promises about a better, stronger Texas Women’s Health Program without Planned Parenthood. But those claims have not actually materialized into a better, stronger Women’s Health Program. Indeed, enrollment in the Texas Women’s Health Program is down to 92,727 clients this month, from an all-time high of 120,590 clients last December.

I truly hope that all the TWHP has is an awareness problem, and that a slick website is all that is standing between low-income Texans and the contraception and cancer screenings they were getting last year.

But the TWHP already has a website, TexasWomensHealth.org, which Rewire first identified as having major problems with search functions and provider listings 17 months ago, and which to this day continues to recommend low-income women seek pap smears and birth control pills at, for example, Austin Radiological Services.

State health officials have been promising to fix the site for over a year; now they’re asking for donations to create a new one. One with more … awareness. But even the state’s health and human services department (HHSC) acknowledges that the kind of “awareness” the program needs has never come from a website or an advertising campaign: it came from Planned Parenthood, which actively sought to enroll its low-income clients in the WHP.

As HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman told the Houston Chronicle, “We’re serving about 25 percent fewer women than we were a year ago. We have enough providers to serve more women so we want to make sure women know about the program. Under the Medicaid program, Planned Parenthood not only served many of the clients, they also helped their patients enroll in the Women’s Health Program,” she said.

It seems that state leaders are learning what many Planned Parenthood patients already knew: that the organization does not simply provide affordable health care, but also helps educate its clients about services and engages in the kind of community outreach efforts that individual doctors often don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to pursue.

Kicking Planned Parenthood out of the WHP didn’t just deny people access to their preferred health-care providers. It cut people off from a hugely successful, holistic system that was designed specifically to serve low-income folks’ health care needs, and which benefited Texas as a whole—by saving taxpayer dollars and increasing public health statewide—as much as it benefited individual patients.

A Planned Parenthood spokesperson told Rewire that if the state’s awareness efforts “help more women access health care, then that’s a win for Texas,” but that “if state lawmakers truly care about health and safety of Texas women, they should restore funding for state’s family planning program and restore women’s access to the full network of qualified providers” in the Women’s Health Program.

As entertaining as it might be to see state legislators cutting loose at a Sammy Kershaw show, the truth is that no fundraiser concert would be necessary in the first place if Texas Republicans hadn’t made pandering to their most extreme right-wing supporters a higher priority than preserving money-saving health-care programs for the neediest Texans.

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.