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Texas Women's Health Program Faces Bleak Future Without Legislative Action

Texas Women's Health Program Faces Bleak Future Without Legislative Action

May 18, 2011 — Texas lawmakers are at an "impasse" over a bill (SB 1854) that is intended to renew the state's Women's Health Program for five more years and block Planned Parenthood from participating in the program, the Austin American-Statesman reports. Sen. Bob Deuell (R), sponsor of the bill, said there is not enough support to bring the measure to a vote on the Senate floor (Lindell, Austin American-Statesman, 5/17).

The program provides birth control and preventive health screenings to uninsured women. It was established five years ago and needs the Legislature's approval to continue. Current law prohibits state or federal dollars from paying for abortion care in Texas, but antiabortion-rights activists oppose any funding for Planned Parenthood. As a result, the bill prohibits the state from contracting with Planned Parenthood because some of the organization's Texas clinics provide abortion services with private funds.

To ensure that Planned Parenthood providers cannot participate in the program, the bill includes a provision that if the bill becomes law and Planned Parenthood successfully sues to overturn it, the state program would be discontinued entirely. The program serves 100,000 women -- about 40% of whom are treated at Planned Parenthood -- and saves an estimated $20 million in annual Medicaid spending. The state receives $9 in federal money for every $1 it spends on the program (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/4).

According to the American-Statesmen, the Planned Parenthood provision is the "sticking point" in the debate. Deuell said that Senate Democrats "just can't vote for" the bill in its current form, adding, "I guess we just won't renew the program. ... I think it's unfortunate, but that's the way it's got to be." The program would expire in December.

Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region said, "I think it is a sad lack of leadership from the Texas Legislature that there's no way to renew a program that is incredibly successful," adding, "This has real-life consequences, and we are honestly just sick about not being able to serve these clients." She continued, "This program is the difference between whether some Texas women get health care or not. It's really devastating to think what the impact might be" (Austin American-Statesman, 5/17).