New health care resolution for women to be proposed

Commissioners discuss and vote on a new resolution designed to restore $72 million in state funding to health care programs for women.
Commissioners discuss and vote on a new resolution designed to restore $72 million in state funding to health care programs for women.

Almost two years after the 2011 Texas Legislature cut funding for women’s health care by two-thirds – which resulted in the closing of more than 50 women’s health care clinics, cutting off preventive care for approximately 147,000 low-income women – Austin Commission for Women is beginning to fight back.

Commissioner Flannery Bope, chair of ACW, introduced a resolution on March 6 to restore the $72 million in funding for the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Family Planning program and the Women’s Health Program. Austin City Council meets Thursday to vote on whether the resolution should proceed to the Legislature.

“The Women’s Health Program provides not only contraceptive care, but also pap smears, as well as screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure,” said Meghan Young, a UT graduate who now interns under state Rep. Donna Howard. “And it provides these services to women who would be covered by Medicaid if they became pregnant.”

According to Scott Daigle, a staffer for Howard, the lack ofstate funding led to more than 20,000 unplanned pregnancies because of the lost access to family planning services and birth control. The state’s health commission says Texas will see even more than that – nearly 24,000 unplanned births – between 2014 and 2015 thanks to these cuts, which will increase state and federal taxpayers’ Medicaid costs by up to $273 million.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading reproductive health care provider, was one of the clinics that were excluded from funding after the Texas Legislature passed the Affiliate Ban Rule, which prohibits abortion providers and their affiliates from receiving taxpayer dollars through the Women’s Health Program. Supporters of Planned Parenthood, which served more than 46 percent of the program’s patients in 2010, argue that abortion isn’t the big issue here.

“It is important to note that clinics that perform abortions do not receive government funding, and they didn’t before the cuts either. These cuts hurt women who were seeking family planning services and breast cancer screenings,” Bope said.

Young described the Affiliate Ban Rule as “fiscally irresponsible,” adding that it resulted in the closure of clinics that were not associated with Planned Parenthood, and was also the cause of Texas losing federal funds for the Woman’s Health Program.

“While I think we will see more funding for family planning and women’s health in the 2014-15 budget, I highly doubt the Affiliate Ban will be lifted,” Young said.

Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, told The Texas Tribune that she hopes for an expanded primary-care program that will serve a broader population, but that the Texas Right to Life is “still investigating the participating providers to ensure none are affiliated with abortion providers.”

“These budget cuts have had a devastating affect on Texas women, children and families across the state,” said Austin City Council member Laura Morrison, who sponsored the resolution. “Hopefully our City Council resolution will play a role in helping to restore the Women’s Preventive Health and Family Planning Services funding.”

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[Photos and story completed March 2013 for J 310F Reporting Words, a journalism class at the University of Texas.]

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