More than one hundred thousand Texas women rely on the Texas Womenâ??s Health Program for many of their health needs, including preventative care, contraception, and other services â?? and for the last year, many of those women have lost their only option for care.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34% of women in Texas are uninsured, the highest rate in the nation. Potter County is right in line with the state average at 31%. And Texas ranks second only to California in the number of unintended pregnancies.
But for the last several years, Governor Rick Perry and the federal government have been at odds over the program. Gov. Perry has historically and emphatically rejected federal Medicaid dollars, claiming the strings attached to those dollars constitute a violation of Texasâ?? state sovereignty. In this case, Mister Perry took issue with funding going toward Planned Parenthood clinics.
By law, no federal or state taxpayer dollars can be used to fund abortions.
However, the Texas legislature cut funding for family planning programs by two-thirds in the 2011 session. And after years of back-and-forth litigation, Texas refused federal funding and took full control of and responsibility for the WHP in the state on November 1
of last year.
â??The Texas Legislature, as the elected representatives of the people of Texas, have made it crystal clear that this important program will not be used to give taxpayer dollars to abortion groups and affiliates like Planned Parenthood,â?? said Perry in a statement on Oct. 31, 2012. â??In Texas, we cherish innocent life, and we wonâ??t allow taxpayer money to be used to promote or provide abortions through the Womenâ??s Health Program.â??
And since then, providers have seen a drop in the number of women enrolling in the program, as well as a drop in claims for birth control and wellness exams.
For example, Haven Health Clinics in Amarillo reports a 20 percent drop in participants, largely due to restricted services.
Carolena Cogdill, Executive Director of Haven Health Clinics, says under the state program, women typically only qualify for an annual exam and contraceptives. Under the federal program, women also had access to pregnancy tests and STI (sexually transmitted infection) tests free of charge.
Haven Health Clinics is the only family planning clinic in the Texas Panhandle, serving 26 counties and thousands of women. In 2011, the Texas legislature cut state funding for family planning programs by two-thirds, from $111.5 million to $37.9 million. If family planning services were severely restricted or lost altogether, Cogdill says the impact would be enormous.
â??It could be devastating â?? totally devastating,â?? said Cogdill, â??because the health of the community depends on the health of its constituents. So if you have women who donâ??t have access to birth control, who donâ??t understand the consequences of having a child, who aren't emotionally, financially, or psychologically prepared to have a child, then youâ??re going to get to the point where those not only economic consequences are going to be devastating for the community, but also the health consequences.â??
To learn more about the Texas Womenâ??s Health Program, or see if you qualify, follow the links attached to this story. You can also find Gov. Perryâ??s complete statement and learn more about the political controversy and societal impact of the ongoing issue by following those links.