In a controversial decision that could change how low-income women receive health services, the state of Texas has pushed forward in its anti-abortion battle, igniting a public relations skirmish with the federal government.
The state director of Health and Human Services, Commissioner Tom Suehs, signed a new rule that will ban Planned Parenthood and other abortion affiliates from participating in the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP). The rule is necessary, according to Suehs and Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s office, because of a significant misallocation of taxpayer funds to provide for abortions.
“This is about preventing taxpayer dollars from going to organizations that perform or promote abortions,” said Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “In Texas we respect life, and lawmakers have decided that funding abortion providers and affiliates is an irresponsible and poor use of taxpayer money.”
Funding Process Not Transparent
Planned Parenthood Communication Specialist Alejandra Diaz claimed she was surprised by the ban, arguing Planned Parenthood and many other abortion affiliates do not use taxpayer money for abortion procedures. In fact, Texas law prohibits them from receiving any taxpayer money whatsoever.
“Through WHP, we provide preventative services such as breast screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and birth control,” said Diaz. “Abortions are not included under WHP.”
However, according to Julie Drenner, Texas Director of The Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate, what procedures are funded by taxpayer dollars is actually far less transparent.
“It’s moving buckets of money,” said Drenner. “They [abortion affiliates] can say they will use taxpayer funds for mammograms, but then they can actually use what’s left over for abortions.”
Political Ploy or Consensus?
Diaz adamantly denies any inappropriate use of taxpayer money and argues the ban is nothing short of a political ploy based on personal convictions, that Gov. Perry is “putting his beliefs and political agenda before women’s health.”
Drenner says the decision was not made based upon personal beliefs but rather a state consensus.
“I was there at the Capitol as a block of 45 representatives said that they would vote down the entire budget if the abortion funding was restored. There is quite a lot of commitment and political energy to seeing funds dry up for facilities that provide abortions, and it’s clear the governor has the backing of the majority of the legislature.”
Administration Threatens Retribution
Despite its public advocacy for low-income women to have greater access to health services, the Obama administration has threatened to revoke all federal funding of the Women’s Health Program, which would end the program entirely in Texas, denying access to the very women it claims to be fighting for. This action, according to Frazier, is a clear violation of federal authority.
“It is absolutely an overreach of authority and a clear violation of the 10th Amendment,” Frazier said. “Federal law dictates states to administer their Medicaid programs. Texas shouldn’t even need permission to determine who can provide care, because it is allowed under federal law. However, now because our laws don’t fit with President Obama’s pro-abortion agenda, he is seeking to end care for more than 100,000 Texas women just to save less than 2 percent of providers.
“This situation is solely in the Obama Administration’s hands, and if it truly cares about the health of women, it will allow this important program to continue,” he added.
The intentions of Planned Parenthood may also come into question then, as Diaz claims the organization supports the administration’s decision to revoke federal funding of the program.
“We would prefer it not to happen, but our priority is the women. We don’t agree with the [state’s] decision, and we’re going to rally women and let them know how this will affect them. We plan to collect signatures and take video so Gov. Perry can see what he’s doing—taking away women’s health care.”
Diaz claims it is actually the state which is acting against its constitutionally provided authority.
“The federal government has said already that this is illegal. The state is restricting women’s providers, and it can’t do that under Medicaid law. We are qualified providers. We will continue to be here to help women get through hard times,” said Diaz. “We will find a way for women to keep coming and to get the health care that they need.”
State May Call Obama’s Bluff
As the two levels of government blame each other for the problem, the future of the Women’s Health Program remains in limbo. Neither Frazier nor Drenner expects the state to compromise with the federal government. Instead, they maintain the state will call the administration’s bluff while working to provide low income women with the same accessible health care.
“The governor is currently working with state lawmakers, our Texas delegation in Washington, 10th Amendment advocates, and pro-life advocates to keep this program going,” said Frazier. “There is absolutely no reason for [the program] to discontinue, as Planned Parenthood represents less than 2 percent of providers in the program—more than 2,500 providers in more than 4,600 locations across the state are qualified to offer care.”