De-Funding Planned Parenthood Was Really Bad for Low-Income Women in Texas

In case you haven’t heard, Texas officials really do not like Planned Parenthood. As part of their years-long effort to crush the women’s health-care provider, they’ve done virtually all in their power to ensure no state or federal funding trickles down to, say, provide birth control, STD testing or cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood’s family planning clinics, which don’t provide abortion.

Hence why state officials in 2011 booted Planned Parenthood from the so-called Women’s Health Program, a widely successful Medicaid waiver program that provided basic health care, like birth control, to thousands of poor and uninsured women in the state. The feds, who spent $9 to every $1 the state chipped in, said the move violated longstanding Medicaid law, but Texas didn’t care and in the end gave up nearly $40 million in annual funding. As if that wasn’t enough, lawmakers also slashed family-planning grants by 66 percent that very same year, redistributing what was left away from dedicated family planning providers like Planned Parenthood.

So in the wake of the 2011 Texas legislative session, Medicaid patients could no longer get long-lasting birth control at Planned Parenthood clinics or the dozens of others that shuttered because of the funding cuts (two thirds of which were not Planned Parenthood's). Experts warned that in their zeal to hammer abortion providers (or anyone even “affiliated” with an abortion provider), lawmakers had created a perfect storm for low-income women in the state: Fewer of them would be able to access the most effective kinds of contraception (like IUDs or three-month injectable Depo shots), resulting in more unplanned, Medicaid-covered births.

And guess what? That’s exactly what happened, according to researchers with UT’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which has been studying the effects of Texas laws curtailing women’s reproductive rights or slashing family planning funding. Their latest study, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reports that Texas Medicaid claims for IUDs (or so-called long-acting reversible contraception) dropped by 35 percent in the years after Texas booted Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program and axed family planning funding. Claims for injectable Depo shots fell some 31 percent. Among users of injectable contraception, Medicaid-paid deliveries increased by 27 percent.

“Simply put, dedicated women's health providers matter,” said Joseph Potter, a UT sociology professor who supervised the study. “Providers who are mission-driven and have the requisite experience and knowledge appear to be critical for the delivery of the most effective methods of contraception — IUDs, implants, and injectables,” he said in a prepared statement. “From a demographic perspective, this is important because both national studies and local studies show that these methods dramatically decrease unintended pregnancy. We also have accumulating evidence that there is unmet demand for these methods in Texas.”

The study underscores the fear that, should Texas follow through on its threat to completely ban Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider in Texas, other providers simply won’t be able to pick up the slack. In a letter to Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates last year, state health officials cited undercover videos shot by anti-abortion activists inside a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic as proof “you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner.”

The video was one in a series that anti-abortion activists claim prove Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donation. Not only have experts said that’s not the case, last week a Harris County grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood instead indicted the two anti-abortion activists who used fake driver’s licenses to lie their way into a local clinic.

One of those activists, Sandra Merritt, turned herself in to state district judge Brock Thomas yesterday. Prosecutors offered Merritt pretrial diversion, meaning that if she stays out of trouble they’ll dismiss her second-degree felony charge of tampering with a government document. David Daleiden, the other activist indicted last week, is expected to turn himself in to authorities today. Daleiden has also been charged with “unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly offer[ing] to buy human organs, namely, fetal tissue, for valuable consideration.” Which just so happens to be the very crime he’s accused Planned Parenthood of committing.

Despite the criminal indictments in Harris County, Gov. Greg Abbott doubled down on the decision to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid last week, saying “nothing” about the indictments “impacts the state’s ongoing investigation.”

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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas