DALLAS – Texas has been getting headlines this week for having already implemented the controversial ultrasound-before-abortion requirement that drew such a backlash in Virginia recently. But a different battle playing out in Austin this week has mobilized protesters on both sides of the abortion issue.
Under a new state law being put into effect this month, women’s health clinics that “affiliate with” abortion providers are ineligible for funding from the Texas Women’s Health Program. The $40 million-per-year program pays for family planning, counseling and cancer screening services for 130,000 low-income women.
None of the clinics that get the funds provide abortions. But some of them are operated by Planned Parenthood. That organizational relationship is enough, state officials maintain, to bar funding.
“Texans don’t want Planned Parenthood, a known abortion provider, to be involved in this,” Gov. Rick Perry told reporters Thursday. “We’ve made that decision, and that should be the state’s right to decide.”
Planned Parenthood may have survived the Komen meltdown, but Perry and state legislative leaders are willing to forgo millions of federal dollars in order to avoid sending any money to clinics with ties to the organization. The organization’s clinics provide about 40 percent of the women’s health program services.
The federal government, which pays 90 percent of the cost of the Texas Women’s Health Program with Medicaid dollars, has said Texas can’t selectively boot Planned Parenthood.
Perry has insisted it can and promised Thursday the program will continue.
The governor did not say, however, where he’d come up with the cash to replace roughly $35 million in federal funds. The threat of cuts has already reportedly caused some clinics to close. The family planning clinics provide basic services such as Pap smears, contraceptives and hormone patches.
The threat to family planning services comes after abortion foes have already succeeded in restricting access to abortion in many parts of the state. Even before this showdown, 92 percent of the counties in Texas already had no abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And 33 percent of the state’s women live in those counties.
If Texas forgoes federal funds for the women’s health program and doesn’t replace them, some of the state’s poorest women will be at even greater risk for unwanted pregnancies.
And where would more unwanted pregnancies put Texas? It already ranks among the states with the highest teen birth rates, and has done so for years.
Although the overall teen birth rate has declined in the past decade, the numbers in Texas still far outpace the national rate. In Texas, 63 out of every 1,000 teenage girls over age 15 gave birth in 2008, compared with 41 per 1,000 teens nationally.
The safety net for at-risk children, meanwhile, is already very thin.
Almost one in four Texas children – 24 percent – live in poverty, according to the latest data compiled with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That rate is also higher than the national average, and has not budged in years.
It’s hard to see how anyone wins with numbers like that. Perry’s insistence that the women’s health program will survive, even without federal funding, might be a sign that support for the program transcends the gamesmanship over Planned Parenthood.
Some 130,000 low-income Texas women are waiting to see what happens.