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New Hearing Requested Over Texas' Women's Health Program; Public, Doctors Press State for Changes

New Hearing Requested Over Texas' Women's Health Program; Public, Doctors Press State for Changes

September 5, 2012 — Planned Parenthood on Tuesday requested that a federal appeals court revisit a ruling that would allow Texas to exclude its clinics from a health program for low-income women, Reuters reports.

The court last month ruled that the state may bar groups affiliated with abortion providers from the Medicaid Women's Health Program, which provides preventive health services to more than 100,000 Texas women. The federal government is ending funding for the program because of Texas' actions, but the state plans to continue funding the program on its own.

Planned Parenthood in the filing asked the full court to hear the case again. The group argued that Texas is violating the organization's First Amendment rights by excluding clinics that use non-government funding to provide constitutionally protected abortion care. The group also noted that it does not provide abortion services at the facilities that participate in WHP (MacLaggan, Reuters, 9/4).

Women's Health Advocates Gather at Public Hearing

Meanwhile, state legislators, hospital administrators and dozens of women during a hearing on Tuesday urged Texas officials to allow Planned Parenthood clinics to participate in WHP, the AP/Huffington Post reports.

They cited studies showing that other medical facilities in the state would be forced to increase their patient loads five-fold to make up for the care currently provided by Planned Parenthood clinics (Weissert, AP/Huffington Post, 9/4). They also argued that excluding the clinics would decrease access to preventive care, potentially leading to more cancers, unintended pregnancies and abortions.

State Rep. Sarah Davis (R), a breast cancer survivor, said, "Countless physicians will be unwilling to participate in the program because it will force them to choose between practicing medicine in accordance with the standard of care and medical ethics, or in accordance with a rule created to serve a political ideology" (Scharrer, Houston Chronicle, 9/4).

A smaller but equally vocal group of abortion-rights opponents also attended the hearing and urged the state to continue excluding Planned Parenthood from the program, according to the AP/Huffington Post (AP/Huffington Post, 9/4).

Texas Doctors Worry New Rules Will Restrict Abortion Discussions

In related news, doctors in Texas are raising concern that the state's takeover of the program will restrict their ability to discuss abortion with patients, KUHF reports. The state is in the process of rewriting the rules for providers who participate.

Doctors are concerned the state will penalize them for discussing abortion with patients or providing information at their clinics about the procedure. Michael Speer, president of the Texas Medical Association, said, "[W]e don't think it's appropriate for a governmental entity to tell us what we can and cannot discuss with our patients."

Celia Neavel -- a physician at the People's Community Clinic in Austin, which currently participates in WHP -- said that in addition to not providing abortion care, providers are not supposed to "promote" abortion. It is not clear how the state will define "promote," she said, adding, "[I]f it means we can't discuss [abortion] when it comes up, if it means we can't give a handout for services (about) where's a legal place to go get further care within the community, then we'll have to decide whether we want to accept this program."

Stephanie Goodman of the state Health and Human Services Commission said the state is "not trying to get in the middle of that doctor-patient relationship" and "understand[s] they have a professional standard to uphold." She added, "[T]hat's probably an area where we need to do some work on the wording of the rules to make it much clearer about what we were really trying to achieve."

The state is expected to finalize the rules in coming weeks (Feibel, KUHF, 9/3).