Planned Parenthood

State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and several other Texas senators and representatives spoke at Planned Parenthood’s Lobby Day rally at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Planned Parenthood and 550 of its supporters rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday during its biennial Lobby Day rally.

State senators and representatives welcomed rally attendees, who wore pink and held posters with sayings such as “I rely on Planned Parenthood” and “Texas needs Planned Parenthood.” 

The rally, officially named “My Health, My Life. My Texas. Rally,” reflects what true Texan values are, according to Amanda Bennett, global studies graduate student and member of the Feminist Alliance Policy.

“Planned Parenthood embodies Texas values rather than being against them,” Bennett said.  “[Values] like health and families and being in control and making choices for your family.”

Sarah Wheat, vice president of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said the day served as an opportunity for Texans from across the state to show their support for women’s health and the health services Planned Parenthood provides.

Planned Parenthood patients also spoke at the rally, sharing their stories about Planned Parenthood and how they would be impacted if SB 2 defunded breast and cervical cancer screening programs. 

SB 2, the proposed Senate budget, would distribute funding for health care centers that provide breast and cervical cancer screening in a three-tier system, and Planned Parenthood would be classified as a third-tier priority.

“We heard directly from one of the patients, who took a bus from Waco and said her being here today was because of breast and cervical cancer screening at her Waco [Planned Parenthood] health center,” Wheat said.

Ashley Alcantara, University Democrats communication director and Plan II sophomore, said she thought SB 2 was a poorly disguised way to defund Planned Parenthood.

“It’s such an important resource for women who often don’t have access to health insurance or other places to get health care, so I think it’s pretty despicable for legislators to target funding that is so important to so many women,” Alcantara said.

Attendees also showed their support for Planned Parenthood by scheduling meetings with their local representatives. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), who spoke at the kickoff rally, met with his constituents Wednesday. Rodriguez said legislators should pay attention to Planned Parenthood.

“Standing up for reproductive rights isn’t a challenge; it’s an opportunity to amplify the voice of so many women who depend on basic reproductive and other critical health care services,” Rodriguez said in an email.

Laura Tanter, biology and English junior and president of UT’s Texas Freedom Network chapter, said representatives may not have an accurate picture of Planned Parenthood.

“They’re trying to remove all funding from Planned Parenthood, and it’s all based on … the fact that some of their locations provide abortions,” Tanter said. “But I don’t think they realize it’s more than just abortion, and it’s important for everyone around the country.”

College Republicans said although they do not support Planned Parenthood’s abortion services, moving forward on women’s health is a priority. Women should have the necessary tools and services for their health, according to Bridget Guien, economics freshman and communications director for College Republicans. 

“It’s nice to see that women from all over Texas could come together to support something they are passionate about,” Guien said. “It’s a good sign for Texas politics that so many people can rally together and share their opinion with the Capitol.

One clinic in Travis County can no longer provide abortions because of Texas’ most recent abortion law, and three clinics currently open will close next year when the remaining provisions of the law are implemented, according to Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Sarah Wheat.

Wheat said part of the law that has not yet been implemented includes regulations on sizes of janitor’s closets, parking lots and air vents in health centers, though, none of the clinics in Travis County meet the requirements that must be implemented by September 2014.

Planned Parenthood’s South Austin location is the only clinic in Travis County that has stopped providing abortion services because of the law, Wheat said.

Savanna Faulkner, Texas Students for Life president, said 43 percent of women seeking abortions are college-aged, and the bill will improve abortion safety for students by helping ensure that doctors are well-equipped to perform procedures.

“A lot of times abortions go really wrong,” Faulkner said. “[The provision] shows that these doctors are quality doctors and … an abortion is a surgical thing that happens, so why are they not held to the same standards as all other surgical doctors?”

Julia Quinn, an executive board member of Texas Law Students for Reproductive Justice, said the law makes it impossible for a woman to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion.

“The district court recognized in its ruling that the admitting privileges requirement served no medical purpose and had no relation to safety,” Quinn said. “We completely agree. The sad fact of the matter is that, because so many hospitals are affiliated with religious institutions, even highly qualified abortion practitioners will be denied admitting privileges on ideological grounds.”

On Oct. 31, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous ruling made by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, which declared two provisions of the abortion law unconstitutional. Although the plaintiff — Planned Parenthood and other organizations — asked the Supreme Court Monday to reinstate Yeakel’s ruling declaring parts of the law unconstitutional, the law will remain in effect until at least January 2014.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Danielle Wells said hospital admitting privileges are not necessary for an abortion to be safe.

“The Texas Hospital Association opposed this provision because it’s medically unnecessary,” Wells said. “It doesn’t help women. In fact, it hurts woman because it creates a barrier to safe medical care, so it’s clear that this provision was designed to limit a woman’s access to safe abortion and that it does nothing to protect the health and safety of women — just the opposite.”

Wells said although some providers are still open, the amount of abortions they will be able to provide may be reduced because some clinics may have some physicians without admitting privileges.

Faulkner said she supports the law because it will ultimately benefit women who have abortions.

“Pro-choicers call it a war on women, but really, it’s a war for women,” Faulkner said. “We are bettering the circumstances for women and their health. We’re not taking away abortion completely.”

Quinn said the law makes it unnecessarily difficult for women in Texas to obtain abortions because they will have to travel far distances to find an abortion provider.
“Austin still has clinics that offer abortion services, but at least one has stopped providing abortions in the wake of the law, making it more difficult for students to access abortion care,” Quinn said.

The Texas Department of Health Services will host a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 4, regarding the implementation of new rules for the Texas Women’s Health Program, a debate that has ignited controversy among women across the state, including a ban on Planned Parenthood as a provider for the program. The Women’s Health Program received a hit in March when Gov. Rick Perry announced Texas would now exclude Planned Parenthood, a family planning agency that provides health care to about 130,000 low-income women, from the program because it provided abortions. Since then, Planned Parenthood has sued the state to remain in the program. Courts ruled in Perry’s action legal in August. The case will go before a Texas district court in October.

“Planned Parenthood is the sole provider of health care to more than 130,000 low-income women in Texas,” said Susan Heinzelman, Director of UT’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. “Many students who do not have health care providers here in Austin rely on Planned Parenthood for their preventative care.”

Sarah Wheat, an interim CEO for the Texas Capital Region Planned Parenthood, said Planned Parenthood currently serves more women enrolled in the Texas Women’s Health Program than any other provider and the state funds about 10 percent of Planned Parenthood’s operations. Planned Parenthood operates separate clinics for women seeking abortions and has stated Texas funds do not go to fund abortions.

Wheat said Planned Parenthood estimates it saves the state about $45 million a year by providing preventative screenings and tests.

“About 47 percent of women who receive services receive them from Planned Parenthood, so almost half of the women in the program won’t be able to access the services,” Wheat said. “It is going to have an enormously negative effect on women.”

Proposed rules for the Women’s Healthcare program would also ban doctors from discussing abortion with any WHP client. In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood claimed this violates free speech.

Texas already has several laws in place regarding abortion, including one that requires a woman to receive an ultrasound 24 hours before having an abortion and listen to a description of it in full detail.

The Woman’s Right To Know Act also requires a woman to be given information about adoption and the medical complications abortions can create before they have an abortion.

“It’s a bad choice to limit funding because it might increase risk factors for some students,” Kelsey Duncan, Radio-television-and-film sophomore, said. “We’re all college students. We don’t always have a lot of money, which means we need to go to the most affordable place we can find.”

The public can attend the hearing at 1:30 p.m. in the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center located at 4800 N. Lamar.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: New rules in Women's Health Program prompt DHS hearing

After losing state and federal funding, regional branches of Planned Parenthood in Austin, Waco and Dallas-Forth Worth will merge into a single organization to reduce program costs and keep as many clinics as possible open.

The board of directors for the three Planned Parenthood branches, which lost a combined $5 million in funding, unanimously voted Wednesday to merge into Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, a decision that was in the works for about a year. The nonprofit will consist of 26 health centers throughout the region beginning Sept. 1.

Sarah Wheat, interim Co-CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region, said the merger was highly influenced by funding cuts to the program.

“We’ve been getting a lot of support from the community and working more closely than ever with individual donors to keep our three clinics open here in Austin,” she said. “But the merger is a good fit geographically and will help us stretch our donors’ dollars.”

Planned Parenthood organizations in Texas were forced out of the Women’s Health Program last month after the Texas Legislature passed a law to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the program. The program provides health care, including cancer screenings and reduced-cost birth control for low-income women. The federal government, which funded 90 percent of the program, announced they would stop federal funding for it because Texas violated federal Medicaid laws by choosing which clinics could receive funding. The health system in Texas is in a 90-day transition into a fully state-run $33 million-a-year program.

Wheat said Planned Parenthood continuously treats a high number of college students, and it is important to maintain clinics and continue providing screenings for students who often seek the program for inexpensive help.

The merger will eliminate duplicate administration positions in order to consolidate their staff and reduce program costs, she said. Ken Lambrecht, CEO of Planned Parenthood North Texas, will serve as CEO of the new organization.

“The programs for which funding was eliminated from are programs that have been in place for over 40 years,” she said. “These programs have historically been supported with government dollars because they are vital for early cancer screenings.”

Catherine Frazier, Gov. Rick Perry’s press secretary, said Planned Parenthood is using the merger as a scare tactic to make women think their care is compromised.

Frazier said Planned Parenthood should instead be advocating for renewed federal funding.

Fran Hagerty, head of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, said existing health care providers not affiliated with Planned Parenthood are also suffering because of the funding cuts. These health providers receive funding from the state’s family planning budget, which the Women’s Health Program falls under, but the budget has been depleted with the loss of federal funding, Hegarty said.

“Even in the best circumstances, existing providers can’t offer the services Planned Parenthood offers these women for the same cost,” she said. “These cuts have been devastating across the board.”

Most of the clinics that the association represents have lost 85 percent of their budgets, while half have been completely defunded, Hagerty said.

Pre-journalism sophomore Rachel Bush, president of Texas Students for Life, said the anti-abortion group was happy that Planned Parenthood was defunded and must now scramble to keep clinics open.

She said she was unaware that other non-affiliated clinics were being affected by federal funding cuts.

“We need to find a way to make a distinction between defunding Planned Parenthood and other medical groups that provide good services left caught in the crossfire instead of profiting from abortion,” Bush said.

The Obama administration’s decision was a political move to appease the abortion rights base while pulling the rug from unaffiliated individuals, including 100,000 women and 2,500 health care providers under the Women’s Health Program, Frazier said.

“Planned Parenthood has no entitlement to our tax dollars,” she said. “If you are in the business of providing or promoting abortions, we don’t think Texas should be in the business of funding your efforts.” 

Printed on Friday, April 20, 2012 as: Budget cuts consolidate Planned Parenthood

Eight Planned Parenthood organizations sued Texas on Wednesday for excluding them from participating in a program that provides contraception and check-ups to women, saying the new rule violates their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association.

The groups, none of which provide abortions, contend in the federal lawsuit that a new state law banning organizations affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the Women’s Health Program has nothing to do with providing medical care and is simply intended to silence individuals or groups who support abortion rights. Texas law already requires that groups receiving federal or state funding be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions.

The federal government has also cut funding to Texas over the issue, saying it violated federal law. It says the law passed by conservative Republicans and signed by Gov. Rick Perry denies women the right to choose their health care providers.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces the rule, issued a statement saying it believes the state was within its rights to pass the new law. Last month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services demanding that it restore off funding for the Women’s Health program.

Republican lawmakers made it clear during last year’s legislative session that their aim was to shut down as many Planned Parenthood groups as possible. The new law says that a health care provider that shares a name, common ownership or a franchise agreement with any organization that provides elective abortions will be excluded from the program, regardless of whether the provider meets all medical standards.

Shenkken said the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution prevent states from punishing groups for their political views or associations by excluding them from programs in which they are otherwise qualified to participate.

The Planned Parenthood groups have asked the federal court in Austin to block the state from enforcing the law before April 30, when those clinics would lose all funding under the new rule.

Patricio Gonzalez, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County, said his organization currently cares for 6,500 women and would have to shut down two or three of its four clinics if the rule is enforced. South Texas is home to some of the poorest women in the nation.

“We are the largest health care provider for women in our region,” he said. “We know there aren’t any other providers in the region that can absorb 6,500 women as of May 1.”

The Department of Health and Human Services has said it will try to recruit additional health care providers to make up for those lost under the new rule.

Published on Thursday, April 12, 2012 as : Planned Parenthood sues Texas over exclusion from program