The State of Texas continued its scorched-earth strategy in dealing with Planned Parenthood this week by stopping more than half a million dollars in federal funding the organization uses for HIV prevention and screening across the Greater Houston area.
That money, some $600,000 every year, comes from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but is administered by state health officials. And for nearly three decades, that money has gone to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to fund HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution and referral services to connect anyone who has the virus with specialized care.
That will end on December 31, when the organization's current contract is set to expire, according to a tersely worded letter Planned Parenthood received late Monday from the Texas Department of State Health Services. “There will be no further renewals of this contract,” the letter states, without further explanation.
In a prepared statement, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast president and CEO Melaney A. Linton said, “All these years, our HIV team has done amazing and admirable work and it is devastating that PPGC will no longer be able to do this work out in the community.” It's unclear if that money is simply lost or if the state plans on shifting it to other health-care providers in the area (state health officials did not return calls for comment Tuesday). “We are the largest grantee of this type of grant in Houston, so not renewing our grant will leave a big void for people getting tested and treated in our community,” said PPGC spokeswoman Alejandra Diaz in an email to the Press.
The move follows the state's decision to kick Planned Parenthood out of the Medicaid program just two months ago. In October, state health officials announced they intend to block the $3.1 million in Medicaid reimbursements the organization receives every year for some 13,500 patients who use Planned Parenthood clinics for cancer screenings, HIV tests, contraceptives and other preventative health services.
In his letter to Planned Parenthood clinics earlier this year, state health department Inspector General Stuart Bowen pointed to a recent string of videos shot by undercover anti-abortion activists as undisputed evidence that Planned Parenthood is “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner.” Anti-abortion politicians and activists have claimed the videos prove Planned Parenthood profited from the very legal practice of fetal tissue donation. Those videos, which experts say were so deceptively crafted that they “do not represent a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict,” ultimately fueled an unprecedented nationwide assault on the organization that may have helped inspire the attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic the day after Thanksgiving. (Robert Dear, who authorities say shot and killed three people outside the clinic, reportedly told police “no more baby parts” upon arrest; during his first court appearance, Dear called himself “a warrior for the babies.")
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The state has yet to issue its final notice stripping the organization of Medicaid funding, which the feds say Texas cannot legally do. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit in hopes of remaining a health-care provider for Texas Medicaid patients.
DSHS won't yet say why, after three decades, Planned Parenthood is now being booted from an HIV prevention program that serves the state's largest city and surrounding counties. But the Texas Legislature is, as a whole, so against abortion that it seems such decisions are fast becoming de facto state health policy.
Consider that not too long ago, state health officials banned organizations from receiving state money to tell kids not to have sex if they operate within 1,000 feet of an abortion provider or have a name that is at all similar to that of any abortion provider, affiliate or “any entity that engages in pro-abortion advocacy.” State lawmakers didn't even have to tell the Health and Human Services Commission to do this; as commission spokesman Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune at the time, “We see a clear legislative directive of shifting state resources away from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.”
Perhaps blocking federal grant funding for HIV prevention is now part of that “clear legislative directive.”