State legislators trample on the health of Texas' poorest women Print E-mail
 Tuesday December 27 2005


Women, children last

An irrational, secretive redistribution of millions of dollars robs Texas' poorest women of health care [Read MORE]

IT'S not as if they weren't doing their job. In a state with the nation's highest number of uninsured residents, family planning clinics across Texas for years have offered women preventive medicine, including cancer screening, contraception and gynecological, prenatal and postpartum care.

This winter, however, these providers have been slammed by laws quietly crafted last spring. In riders that required no public discussion, Texas legislators arranged to shift $5 million of the federal money on which these clinics rely to a different sort of service: programs "for women seeking alternatives to abortion focused on pregnancy support services that promote childbirth." Another $20 million was diverted from the experienced clinics to alternative programs that may not provide the same level of service.

The cuts have devastated the finances of the state's family planning clinics, which include a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center/Parkland Memorial Hospital program in Dallas, the El Paso County Hospital District's Family Planning Department and Planned Parenthood in Houston.

El Paso's department, which loses 50 percent of its funds, must now turn away some of its clients. The disruption will force more women into the county hospital at late stages of illness. "The taxpayer," a hospital administrator told the El Paso Times, "will pay much more."

In Dallas, withdrawal of $1.7 million is forcing the closure of three family planning clinics. In Houston, where the Legislature cut more than 50 percent of Planned Parenthood funds, as many as 10,000 women will lose access to well-woman exams, contraception and cancer screenings. Under federal law, none of these Texas clinics could have used these funds to perform abortions. Nevertheless, legislators chose to cripple the clinics.

The pivotal operating funds will go to pregnancy crisis centers or to 19 Federally Qualified Health Centers - some of which never requested the help. These FQHCs are valuable resources, offering primary care to poor neighborhoods. But the clinics are scarce, far-flung, and often lack family planning services such as contraception. They can't replace the multiservice family planning clinics that have treated Texans for decades.

Legislators have every right to push abortion alternatives - as long as they don't abdicate their other duties. But ravaging working clinics during a health coverage crisis has nothing to do with protecting women or children. It's self-interested strutting, and it's trampling on the health of thousands of Texas wives, mothers and daughters.
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle