By Michael Barajas
Early this month, at the encouragement of Texas Right to Life and other anti-abortion outfits, Texas House Republicans took a hammer to the state’s family-planning dollars, stripping nearly two-thirds of the $99 million pot. In a clear effort to prevent any of that money from reaching Planned Parenthood’s family-planning clinics, TRL distributed flyers before the budget vote, declaring family-planning programs “revenue streams for the abortion industry.”
Even State Senator Bob Deuell, a Greenville physician and loud Planned-Parenthood opponent, worried at the time that the plan may be too reckless, and suggested that any move to de-fund Planned Parenthood might call for the scalpel, not the axe.
At a Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing Thursday night, Deuell broke out the scalpel.
Deuell introduced his own version of a bill reauthorizing the state’s widely successful Womens Health Program, a version intended to kick Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-providing clinics out of the program for good. One caveat in the bill, which is now set to go before the larger HHS committee sometime next week: the state would quash and discontinue the program altogether if Planned Parenthood sues to fight the ban.
The WHP provides STD testing, birth control, and cervical and breast cancer screenings to thousands of the state’s uninsured and low-income women, and Planned Parenthood contends that its clinics have largely helped make the program the success it is today. Planned Parenthood, the program’s largest provider, serves about 40,000 of the 90,000 women enrolled in the WHP, and the group insists kicking it out of the program would have dire consequences for women across the state.
Deuell said the bill’s language “bolsters” two opinions issued by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott earlier this year that essentially paved the way for Planned Parenthood’s exclusion from the program. At Deuell’s request, Abbott weighed in on which organizations are allowed to take part in the WHP in late February, saying the state’s Health and Human Services Commission is free to bar funding from any “affiliate” of an abortion provider.
The commission for years had worried that banning all Planned Parenthood clinics might be ruled unconstitutional if challenged in court. In fact, the year the WHP was created, Texas Republicans tried to block Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid funding and sparked a federal court battle that shook up the organization’s structure. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled that the organization could keep its funding if it set up separate entities for family planning care and abortion services, which it did – each with its own board of directors and funding stream.
Planned Parenthood reps have in the past said the organization might consider litigation to fight its exclusion from the WHP. But with Deuell’s bill, a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood would scrap the entire program.
“I think it would be highly unlikely there would be any lawsuits,” Deuell said. “If an abortion provider or affiliate sued, they would essentially be suing to end the program – then they wouldn’t have a program to participate in.”
“This is clearly meant to put us between a rock and hard place,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, a spokeswoman with The Planned Parenthood Trust of San Antonio and South Central Texas. “It backs [Planned Parenthood] into a corner so that if we make any challenge there’s just no more Womens Health Program
This makes any legal action impossible because it would put the entire program at risk.”
Through the WHP, Planned Parenthood’s South Texas clinics provided care for over 5,000 women in 2010, the group says.