In a bid to protect residents’ already restricted access to reproductive health care, Harris County officials voted to approve a proposed fund to go toward Harris County Public Health and smaller community organizations at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.
The reproductive health care access fund passed on a 4 to 1 vote, with Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey at odds with his Democratic counterparts.
This fund will allocate $6 million in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan to assist Harris County Public Health and the partner organizations in providing reproductive care – including contraception, family planning education, preconception health screenings, and STI testing and treatment – to a minimum of 20,000 residents, said County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
It would not include abortion funding or related pregnancy termination services, as Texas has a total ban on abortion even in cases of rape or incest, allowing it only if continuing the pregnancy puts the mother's life in danger.
The total amount will be distributed in three parts, with $1.1 million going toward expansions for Harris County Public Health’s services, $4.2 million to funding care at the partner organizations, and the remaining $700,000 for operating expenses for these partner organizations and the county’s health facilities.
This fund is a response to Hidalgo’s resolution passed last year following the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade, making abortion illegal in in most states, said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who accompanied Hidalgo at a press conference held on Monday at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s headquarters.
“There is only so much we can do to stop these draconian, dangerous laws,” Ellis said. “But we can use the resources and power we have in Harris County for residents to access health care services they need to make decisions about their health, family and future. That is what this fund will do.”
Ellis said instead of working to ensure health care is available to the community; Texas politicians have worked to cut funding to clinics and other organizations, going as far to propose litigation against them.
This crackdown on reproductive health care facilities has forced 12 out of the 23 clinics in the state to permanently close their doors.
According to Hidalgo, this places Texans in a vulnerable position where not only do women not have access to reproductive health care, but they are also blocked from receiving primary care – as these clinics are often the only source of affordable general health care, Hidalgo said.
And patients in Texas already face a health care crisis, as the state has one of the highest populations of uninsured people with over 18.4 percent without insurance, according to data from the U.S. Census.
“Sometimes these organizations — the ones that are deep in the community, the ones that are in areas where there are a lot of folks who truly need these services because they cannot afford them otherwise — those organizations are very small and don’t have the funding to serve the need that’s out there,” Hidalgo said.
Harris County plans to select at least 20 community organizations to partner with; using zip codes corresponding with places that have higher populations of uninsured residents to ensure the facilities in these areas have priority to the federal dollars, Hidalgo said.
The funding will have a “phased roll out,” as Harris County Public Health will have immediate access to its portion of funds to start expanding reproductive health services at its four Houston-area clinics and the other facilities will receive and use their allotment in June of this year.