Texas GOP Staffer Quits Over Draconian Cuts to Women’s Health Care, Speaks At Rally

Hundreds of supporters gathered in Austin, Texas tonight to protest planned cuts effectively demolishing the health program for low-income and poor women in the state. A GOP staffer who quit over the cuts spoke at the rally.

Rallies were held in Texas today on the eve of the elimination of funding to the Women’s Health Program through the state, and subsequently to all Planned Parenthood clinics because… well, because the far right apparently doesn’t like women to have health care. So 130,000 more women in Texas will be without health care tomorrow, a state in which access to primary reproductive health care has already been made scarce since the legislature cut funds dramatically last year as well. The cuts will take place because Governor Perry is refusing federal funding that otherwise would go to these clinics. Perry, and other opponents of women’s health care in Texas, claim there are “lots of alternatives” to the clinics now providing low-income women–mothers, students, employees–with health services, but as Andrea Grimes reported for us last year, those alternatives just don’t exist. 

And as Grimes reported today, the 2011 state family planning cuts left 180,000 women without access to contraception and reproductive health services like pap smears and breast cancer screenings.

“The Women’s Health Program serves an additional 130,000 women, bringing the total number of women without access to basic reproductive health care to 310,000,” writes Grimes. “Some estimates put the number closer to 400,000. The Texas Legislative Budget Board has estimated that this will result in up to 21,000 additional births in the state–children born to families who are already in need of government assistance and who would otherwise have sought to avoid an unintended and unwanted pregnancy.

But the anger at these cuts in Texas and across the country is building and even women on the right are fed up.  Today, according to the Austin ChronicleGOP legislative aide, Allison Catalano, who began working for Texas state legislator Myra Crownover last summer, resigned her post, citing Crownover’s support for the cuts to women’s health funding.

 In a letter to Crownover, Catalano wrote that she decided to resign her position because of “recent decisions made by you, Representative Crownover, along with other legislators” related to the draconian cuts to the women’s health budget.

According to the Chronicle, in 2010, Planned Parenthood clinics, which make up only 2 percent of all WHP-funded clinics across the state, served 46 percent of the roughly 183,000 program enrollees.

Although the program had always been designed to exclude abortion providers from participation, lawmakers in 2011 directed the Health and Human Services Commission to come up with a new definition for affiliate that would define PP clinics that do not provide abortion care, and were already participating in the WHP, as affiliates of other PP clinics that do provide legally-protected abortion care, but that weren’t actually serving as WHP providers. The feds have said this tinkering in order to exclude an otherwise qualified provider is prohibited by federal law (Title XIX, to be specific).

Hundreds of supporters of women’s health funding rallied tonight in the Texas state capitol to protest the cuts.

“Whether tonight in Austin, or earlier this week in Midland, or in Fort Worth in the pouring rain, women’s health supporters throughout the state are saying loud and clear that Governor Rick Perry needs to stop playing politics with women’s health and women’s lives,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and native Texan, at the rally.  “Women don’t come to Planned Parenthood health centers to make a political statement, they come because they need health care, and it’s time for Governor Perry to stop taking health care away from Texas women.”

Carole Belver, Executive Director and Health Services Director of Community Action, a local Medicaid Women’s Health Program provider, reminded attendees that Governor Perry already slashed the family planning budget by more than two-thirds, which will take health care from another 160,000 women per year. These cuts also affect services including Pap tests, clinical breast exams, and birth control. 

State Representative Dawnna Dukes, member of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, articulated the skepticism shared by Texas political commentators, editorial boards and government officials about Governor Perry’s fiscally questionable recent comments that he would reject the federal contribution to Medicaid Women’s Health Program – a contribution that covers 90 percent of the cost – and expend an additional $30 million of state funds to create a new program in order to exclude the largest single provider of women’s health care. 

“Governor Perry wants us to pay more for less health care. Governor Perry is slashing education — laying off 25,000 teachers, administrators and other school staff due to a ‘fiscal emergency’ – but suddenly says he can find ‘flexibility’ to score political points,” said Representative Dukes.

Julisa McCoy, a college student from the Rio Grande Valley who currently relies on Planned Parenthood and the Medicaid Women’s Health Program to access preventive health care, also spoke at the rally.

“In my county alone, four clinics were forced to shut down, several employees were laid off, and 15,000 women were displaced from their health care provider: Planned Parenthood,” said McCoy.  “The Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program plays a vital role in the health and livelihoods of women in this state, as does Planned Parenthood. Governor Perry’s ideology has no place in my health care, or the health care of more than 130,000 other women like me in this state.”

This is, perhaps, the answer sought by Beverly McPhail, a provider at the Houston Women’s Resource Center, who asks, “What will it take for Texas women to rise up?”