Starting today, low-income women in Texas enrolled in the state’s Women’s Health Program cannot use Planned Parenthood clinics for medical care. Under a new law passed by the Texas legislature, any clinic which may have ties to abortion services or providers is excluded from the network of state-approved clinics, even if by law these centers do not use government money for these services. Texas lawmakers also cut 70 million dollars in women’s health care funding last year during budget reductions.
“This is politics, but do they really know what is happening to women and their families?” says Lucy Félix, who works in the Rio Grande as coordinator of the Texas Latina Advocacy Network.
Félix, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, says she is already seeing the effects of the budget cuts, which have resulted in the closings of about a dozen clinics in the last few months. Only about a third of the clinics are open in the Rio Grande area, she says, “and I already know of a mother who got pregnant again since she lost access to contraception, as well as a mother who had an abnormal Pap smear result who cannot get any further treatment. Where is the humanity?” she adds.
Stephanie Goodman, a spokesperson from the Texas Health and Human Services, says although 45 percent of women in the Women’s Health Program used Planned Parenthood clinics, “the state does provide alternative places for women to go,” adding the issue “is making sure women know where to access the information.”
Having access to a different clinic, though, is not easy for many women in Texas who live in rural areas, according to findings by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH). In areas such as the Río Grande, almost 90 percent of the population is Latino.
Elizabeth Barajas-Román, Director of Policy for NLIRH, worries the lack of access to health care “erodes the progress that has been made for women in the state.” Barajas-Román adds that “women in their reproductive years are taking on job skills, they are mothers, and they are in a demanding time socially, economically and physically.” Keeping women and mothers healthy is basic public health, she argues, and it keeps the community healthier and more productive.
Moreover, say health professionals like Linda Domínguez, a nurse practitioner and clinician in the Southwest Women’s Health Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, women’s health care clinics save money, since most women seek health care through gynecology, which is essentially a woman’s preventive care.
“A basic well woman checkup consists of anemia screenings, blood and weight measurements, and urine tests, apart from pap smears and breast exams,” says Domínguez. “I have not only helped my patients plan their pregnancies and space their families, but I have helped treat them against the onset of diabetes, high cholesterol and anemia,” adds Domínguez, who is also the Chairman of the Board of the Assocation of Reproductive Health Professionals. If left untreated, many of these conditions contribute to soaring health care costs, she adds.
“Texas is cutting off its nose to spite their face,” says Amy Moy, Vice President of Public Affairs at the California Family Health Council. Moy explains that since California started the publicly-funded Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program (Family PACT), “this saved the state over $4.05 billion dollars over five years,” says Moy. As she explains, family planning is much more cost effective than unplanned pregnancies, and it also results in healthier babies and mothers, thus saving money in the long run.
New Mexico’s Domínguez, who was born and raised in Texas, says she believes Texas “is being short-sighted, since public health is all about maintaining and sustaining the health of a group. Women are the backbone of the workforce,” she adds.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says Texas will be receiving less federal Medicaid money since the state has violated federal Medicaid regulations that allow a woman to choose among qualified health-care providers. Texas Governor Rick Perry has said he will find the money to keep the Women’s Health Program going.
In the meantime, however, community activists like Lucy Félix say the damage has been already done, since clinics have closed. “I am going to keep fighting and petitioning state legislators to at least put some of the funding back,” she says, as she worries more and more women are going without basic health care.
“If a woman has a health problem, the whole family goes down,” Félix says. “Who will be there to educate the children? Women are the pillars of their families.”