The War on Texas Women
Goldberg, Michelle, Newsweek
Byline: Michelle Goldberg
Reproductive rights are under attack. On the front lines of the latest battleground--and how Planned Parenthood is fighting back.
When the electronics company that 50-year-old Tena Price operated with her husband lost a major contract in 2007, the Waco, Texas, couple lost their health insurance, and she went several years without a Pap smear or a mammogram. Birth control was less of a concern as she got older, but she took the pill to help with her heavy, painful periods, and to make the supply last, she tried alternating one month on, one month off. "I found out that--I don't know if it's because I'm older--but that doesn't work very well for your body at all," she says. "And so I called Planned Parenthood and said I need help."
Since contacting Planned Parenthood last year, she has received an annual exam, a year's worth of birth-control pills, and a voucher for a free mammogram at a radiology clinic. "They did cholesterol testing--heart disease runs in my family," she says. "And menopause is coming, so hopefully I will get some guidance through that. Without them, at this point, I would have none of that."
But in Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured women in the country, such care is getting a lot harder to access. Last year, in a move targeting Planned Parenthood, the Texas legislature slashed family-planning funding by two thirds, from $111.5 million to $37.9 million. Now, the state is on the verge of eliminating its Women's Health Program, which provides reproductive-health care for more than 130,000 poor women who don't meet Texas's narrow Medicaid eligibility requirements. It's mostly paid for by the federal government, which contributes $9 for every $1 given by the state. But because federal law won't let Texas bar Planned Parenthood (or any other qualified provider) from the program, the state is poised to discontinue it, refusing $35 million from Washington.
Women's health advocates have been left scrambling. The war on Planned Parenthood has galvanized its opponents, but also its supporters, including some old-school Texas Republicans who have long backed the organization. "People really are stepping up with their donations," says Suzanne Perot McGee, a board member of Planned Parenthood of North Texas (and daughter of Ross Perot). "This has really upset a lot of women." Still, it's unlikely that individual efforts will be enough to avert a crisis in Texas's reproductive-health care.
It's hard to remember now, but Planned Parenthood once had broad bipartisan backing; in 1964, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman served as honorary cochairs. Even as the abortion wars raged, its other reproductive-health services, which make up the vast majority of its work, remained largely uncontroversial. The Women's Health Program was instituted under Gov. Rick Perry in 2007, though it was clear at the time that many women using it would patronize Planned Parenthood.
Then came the conservative sweep in 2010. "This new strategy, which is to end all preventative care at Planned Parenthood, is definitely a new development," says Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. Last year, Republicans in Congress nearly shut down the government while trying to block federal funding for the organization, none of which goes to abortion services. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum want to abolish Title X, the Nixon-era program that provides family planning to more than 5 million low-income women, 36 percent of whom are served by Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, a number of states have taken steps to defund Planned Parenthood--only to be thwarted by the courts and the Obama administration.
Texas, however, is succeeding where other states have failed.
One of the ironies of Texas's anti-Planned Parenthood campaign is that while opposition to abortion sparked it, it leaves abortion clinics unscathed. There are 14 Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas that offer abortion and 51 that provide other sexual-health services. …