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Community Supports Planned Parenthood at Women's Health Program Hearing

On Tuesday, September 4, 2012, the Department of State Health Services hosted a hearing about the new rules being applied to the Texas Women’s Healthcare Program (WHP), a family planning and healthcare program for low-income women. Under the new rules, doctors seeing women under the WHP will not be allowed to discuss abortion and Planned Parenthood will be excluded as a provider for the program, even though these clinics are separate from the ones that do provide abortion care. In order to make this happen, Texas will be giving up $35 million in federal funds for the program, with Governor Rick Perry making the impossible promise to come up with the $56 million needed to fund the program through fiscal year 2014 in a state budget that is already strained beyond capacity.

The consequences of this shortsighted and politically motivated decision are disastrous. The new rules allow the government to come in between doctors and patients, purposely stifling doctors’ freedom of speech and doing away with their best medical judgment. It also has the potential to leave thousands of women without access to preventative care, adding to the 160,000 women who are already going without it due to legislative cuts to family planning programs. Not only would these women lack access to birth control, but also cancer and STI screenings, and wellness exams, resulting in a decline in women’s health across the state and a rise in unwanted pregnancies.

Emotions ran high in the standing room-only meeting, as concerned citizens and legislators from both parties came together to express their outrage over the plan to cut out Planned Parenthood, which serves over 40% of the women who partake in the WHP. "Women's health is not about abortion, it is not about Planned Parenthood, it's about saving the lives of women," said Republican State Senator Sarah Davis, quoted in the Austin Chronicle.

Thought the hearing demonstrated the immense support of, and need for, Planned Parenthood, the Health and Human Services Commission is expected to sign in the new rules for the WHP in the next few months, as early as November 1. The fate of Planned Parenthood now lies in the hands of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear their case after a panel of three federal judges on August 21 decided it was legal to oust them from the WHP.

Sheila Sorvari, a citizen at the hearing, summed up the sad state of affairs, “The Texas I used to live in was compassionate and kind and politicians were not willing to literally put women’s lives at stake for the sake of their own self promotion.”