The focus of the war on women shifted to Texas today as Gov. Rick Perry prepares to carry out his plan to terminate the Women’s Health Program, which provides health services including, Pap smears, breast exams, and contraception to 130,000 low-income, working class women. On the eve of the program’s proposed demise, more than 800 people rallied in Austin urging the governor to back off from his plan.
Protestors carried signs saying, “Don’t Mess with Texas Women” and “No te metas con las mujeres de Tejas” (the Spanish translation). The rally was organized by Planned Parenthood and Don’t Mess with Texas Women. It was one in a series of rallies that have taken place across the state.
Speakers told the audience about the life-saving services that the Women Health Program provides. Delia Henry, a young woman enrolled in the program, told the audience how a wellness check she received detected high blood sugar, and as a result, she is now being treated for diabetes. She also said that a close friend had cancer cells detected and subsequently had the cancer cells removed.
Jalisa McCoy, who lives in South Texas, one of the poorest regions in the nation, said that many women in the region can’t afford health insurance and rely on services provided by the Women’s Health Program. Unfortunately, the program’s termination has or will cause the closure of four Planned Parenthood clinics in the region leaving 15,000 women without access to health care.
State Representative Dawnna Dukes said that the state’s Legislative Budget Board estimates that the Women’s Health Program saves the state $41 million a year making it one of the state’s most cost-effective health programs and should be expanded.
But the program is being shut down for political reasons. Last year, anti-abortion lawmakers and the governor cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, which operates women’s health care clinics that among other things provide Women’s Health Program services. The clinics mainly serve rural Texas and minority communities. These clinics are separate from and independent of Planned Parent’s abortion services, which receive no state funding.
The decision to defund Planned Parenthood affects the whole Women’s Health Program, which is a part of Medicaid and receives 90 percent of its funding from the federal government. The federal government requires that women participating in the program have the freedom to choose their health care provider as long as the provider is qualified and willing to participate in the program.
About 40 percent of the women participating in the program have chosen Planned Parenthood clinics as their provider. By defunding Planned Parenthood, Gov. Perry and the Legislature have denied them their freedom. As a result, the state is no longer eligible to receive the federal funding for the program, which means that it can no longer operate.
Speakers at the Austin rally attacked Gov. Perry and anti-abortion lawmakers for playing politics with women’s health. McCoy called the state’s decision to defund the program a “political vendetta” based on “ideology (that) has no place in my health or that of 130,000 women.”
Perla Cavazos, a Planned Parenthood board member, said that by terminating the Women’s Health Program, Gov. Perry has chosen politics over women. “Women don’t come to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement,” she said. “They come because they need health care.”
Other speakers talked about the impact that the demise of the Women’s Health Program will have of the state of women’s health in Texas, where one in five people don’t have health insurance.
“The infrastructure of preventative health care is about to be demolished,” said Carol Belver of Community Action of Central Texas.” “Texans need more access to health care, not less.”
Gov. Perry has said he will try to keep services provided by the Women’s Health Program available solely through state funding. But in a state that recently cut its budget by about $15 billion, it’s difficult to see where this funding will come from.
Furthermore, by eliminating Planned Parenthood from participating, the state has significantly reduced its capacity for providing Women’s Health Program services.
Program supporters in a last-ditch effort will present a petition signed by 95,000 Texans today to the governor telling him to stop messing with the health of Texas women.