August 24, 2012

ON TUESDAY, a federal appeals court lifted a preliminary injunction against a measure that excludes Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas from receiving state funds. In March, Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced that his state would rather forfeit $35 million in annual federal funding for the Women’s Health Program — a Medicaid waiver program that provides low-income women with contraceptives and cancer screenings — than see any more state tax dollars go to a supposedly pro-abortion organization. Planned Parenthood appealed, but Texas now has the authority to defund the organization. Bottom line: Hundreds of thousands of poor Texas women are likely to be denied a health-care provider because of their state’s ideological zeal.

The Planned Parenthood clinics enrolled in the Women’s Health Program don’t provide abortions, as state law has long forbidden the allocation of public funds to abortion providers. The state, however, has argued that since the Planned Parenthood brand encompasses other abortion-providing services — even ones that have no legal or financial ties to the clinics concerned — the clinics are ultimately “affiliated” with them and are thus liable to be cut. Never mind the nature of the services they actually provide or the number of women they serve.

Let’s consider what this ruling will mean. While it’s true that Planned Parenthood clinics are only a small percentage of those associated with the Women’s Health Program, they account for a strikingly disproportionate share of the health services provided. In fiscal year 2010, for instance, approximately 106,000 women received care from the program. Almost half of them — 51,953 — were treated at Planned Parenthood clinics. The vast majority of the other health-care providers in the program served just 10 patients or fewer. When Texas defunds these clinics, where are these women going to go? Will other providers be able to expand their capacity fivefold at the drop of a hat, especially in a time when grant funding for family planning in general is on the decline?

Texas in particular can’t afford to scale back on the services Planned Parenthood provides. The state has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the nation and the highest percentage of uninsured women. Texas lawmakers have let politics distract them from their obligation to some of their poorest citizens.

This is not, as Mr. Perry said Tuesday, a “win for women.” In fact, it’s the most aggressive advance in the so-called “war on women” we’ve seen all year.