After facing disciplinary action for co-authoring a study that suggested cuts to Planned Parenthood prevented low-income women from accessing contraception and led to an increase in births, one of Texas’s top health officials is leaving his post, the Associated Press reported.
Rick Allgeyer, director of research at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, had teamed up with researchers from the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center to look at what happened after Texas booted Planned Parenthood from its state-run Women’s Health Program in 2013.
Their study, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine early this month, found that the number of women obtaining long-acting birth control (such as intrauterine devices and contraceptive shots) through state-funded family planning services dropped by about a third after the change. Meanwhile, low-income women who had previously been receiving injectable contraceptives from Planned Parenthood before the change saw their birth rate shoot up 27 percent.
Those women lived in counties that lost a Planned Parenthood clinic.
The study didn’t establish an explicit connection between the exclusion of Planned Parenthood clinics and the number of women no longer using contraception, or the increase in births — it’s possible that the women chose to get pregnant or were getting birth control outside the state-funded program. But the researchers said the association points to the “likely consequences of proposals to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates from public funding in other states.”
“You’ve got a very strong signal that there was an impact of [the Texas exclusion of Planned Parenthood],” lead author Joseph Potter told The Washington Post earlier this month. “The thing about this study, it more or less contradicts the claim you can’t implement that policy at no cost, without hurting people.”
The study ran counter to assurances made in 2013, when proponents of excluding Planned Parenthood said the cut wouldn’t affect women’s health. And it got Allgeyer in trouble with state officials.
Agency spokesman Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune Thursday that Allgeyer — who has worked in Texas government for more than 20 years and was eligible to retire — will be stepping down at the end of March.
Allgeyer faced disciplinary action for working on the study on taxpayer time, Black said, adding that neither he nor another health commission employee who was listed as a co-author had told their superiors they were working on the study, in violation of the agency’s policy.
Though the study used health commission data, it’s unclear to what extent Allgeyer and the other employee, Imelda Flores-Vazquez, worked on the research.
Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson — an architect of the Women’s Health Program — dismissed the study as “biased,” pointing to the fact that it was funded by the nonprofit Susan T. Buffet Foundation, which supports Planned Parenthood. She also pointed out that the study didn’t look at women who obtained contraception through other programs.
Last week Nelson sent a letter to Texas’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor requesting a review of the study and an explanation as to why Allgeyer and Flores-Vazquez appeared as co-authors on the report.
“It’s one thing for an agency to provide data upon request. It’s quite another to be listed as a ‘co-author’ on a deeply flawed and highly political report,” Nelson told the Associated Press last week. “I’ve communicated strong concerns to the agency. This should not have happened, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
But Peter Schenkkan, an Austin attorney who is also listed as a co-author on the study, said he was disappointed by the response.
“The first step of a public official should be to face the facts. Not to punish those who bring the facts to them,” he told the AP. Schenkkan was the lead counsel for Planned Parenthood when it fought its exclusion from the Women’s Health Program three years ago.
Allgeyer and Flores-Vazquez haven’t commented on their role in the study. Black also didn’t say Thursday whether Flores-Vazquez would stay at the agency.
The move to exclude Planned Parenthood from the health program went into effect the same year that then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed a law requiring all providers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and physicians to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The new regulations prompted the closure of dozens of abortion clinics across the state, and abortion rights supporters argued that it put an “undue burden” on women.
The Supreme Court is slated to review the law this year.