When the Mission, Texas, Planned Parenthood clinic reopened last September in the Rio Grande Valley after a two-year shutter due to family planning budget cuts made by anti-choice Texas lawmakers, their patients returned—but with far more health problems and abnormal test results than doctors and nurses had expected.
“We saw as many cases of diseases and health problems than we normally would have found in a year at that clinic,” said Kathryn Hearn, the provider’s community services director. “It really did open our eyes when we say that for many patients, we are their only health-care provider.”
That’s why this month, the entity formerly known as Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County is making a major branding switch: from now on, the provider will be known as Access Esperanza Clinics.
It’s a response to a Texas law that bans any “affiliate” of Planned Parenthood from receiving public funding to provide reproductive health care, even if those so-called “affiliates” do not provide abortion care.
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Anti-choice Texas legislators passed the law in 2006, but began enforcing it three years ago, effectively cutting off tens of thousands of low-income Texans’ access to affordable Pap smears and contraception.
Planned Parenthood had provided the majority of services in what was previously called the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. When state lawmakers banned Planned Parenthood from the program, and from receiving any public funding whatsoever, the federal government deemed it a violation of the Social Security Act, which mandates that clients receiving publicly supported health care be able to see the doctor of their choosing.
As a result, Texas built a new state-funded Texas Women’s Health Program that has struggled not only to meet the existing need, but which has seen a steep decline in enrollment and services provided with the loss of Planned Parenthood—at a higher cost to taxpayers.
Hearn told Rewire that the name change will allow the group to once again apply for state family planning and primary care dollars and attempt to return to serving their 13,000 Hidalgo County clients who were denied health care after the state slashed family planning funds by two-thirds during the 2011 legislative session.
That budget move caused dozens of family planning clinics—including, but not exclusively, Planned Parenthood facilities—to shut their doors and drastically reduce service hours and staff.
Hearn emphasized that “nothing” about the clinics’ care model or structure will change. The only difference will be the name—and, if Access Esperanza is able to re-secure public funds, the number of clients they’re able to serve.
“Being able to get state funds is going to mean that we will be able to expand services,” Hearn said. “We will be able to do more diabetes, cholesterol screenings, primary care.”
Hearn said that the name change was a difficult decision, but that it was necessary to be able to continue serving a community in need. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the poorest areas not only in Texas, but in the nation, and it was particularly hard-hit by lawmakers’ family planning cuts.
Access Esperanza had served Hidalgo County for 50 years as Planned Parenthood—and had never provided abortion services, despite anti-choice lawmakers’ claims that any funding to any Planned Parenthood entity was tacit endorsement of legal abortion care—before the name change.
“Except for the name ‘Planned Parenthood,’ we already met the requirements [to receive public funding],” Hearn said. “We’re really not any different today than we were a year ago.”
Hearn said that Access Esperanza aims to increase its patient capacity by 8,000 clients over the next year if they’re able to receive public funds. She said she wasn’t sure how much public funding they might be eligible for, however.
“We’ve not looked at it in terms of money,” Hearn said. “We’re looking at it in terms of people served.”