Senate budget would put Planned Parenthood on lowest tier for women's health care funding

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Specialized clinics that offer breast and cervical cancer services, such as Planned Parenthood, will be the lowest priority recipients for women’s health care funding if the Texas legislature passes the proposed Senate budget for 2016-2017.

The Senate budget, known as SB 2, would require the Texas Department of State Health Services to distribute funds for breast and cervical cancer services based on a three-tiered system. The bottom tier includes non-public entities, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide breast and cervical cancer screening, but not comprehensive care.

The three-tiered system is built to ensure funding first goes to clinics unaffiliated with abortions, according to state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.

“We always want to ensure that we have an adequate provider base to appropriately serve low-income Texas women who need access to comprehensive women’s health services,” Schwertner said. “At the same time, the people of Texas have clearly indicated that they don’t want to see their state tax dollars delivered to abortion providers. It’s really a question of resources.”

State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the tiered funding plan would be a blow for low-income women in the state.

“I’m very concerned that the only thing we accomplish by implementing a tiered funding mechanism in Senate Bill 2 is to limit access to cancer screenings that can help low-income women identify breast or cervical cancer at a time when it’s most easily and successfully treated,” Watson said. “We simply must stop playing politics with women’s health.”

According to Planned Parenthood’s 2013 report, 2.7 million patients in the U.S. received 10.6 million services, of which 3 percent
were abortions. 

Amanda Bennett, global policy graduate student and member of the student organization Feminist Policy Alliance, said she thinks legislators are hiding behind the words “comprehensive care.”

“What they say is they want to give women more comprehensive care by sending them to doctors not in these specialized clinics, but, often, these are the only places that women know about and are comfortable going to,” Bennett said. “I knew [at Planned Parenthood] they could answer my questions better than the guy at CVS.”

There are 31 clinics that offer breast and cervical cancer services within 50 miles of Austin, according to the Department of State Health Services’ clinic locator. The Rio Grande Valley region has only eight clinics within 50 miles of Rio Grande City. 

“A lot of the Planned Parenthood clinics are in places where there aren’t really other reasonable options,” Bennett said. “You see legislators in the Capitol deciding how far a woman should have to drive to get her pap smear … if you don’t have a car or public transportation, it can be really hard to get to the clinic you decide to [go to].”