Sixty Women’s Health Clinics Shuttered After Cuts

The state legislature slashed women's health funding by two thirds last session in an attempt to target Planned Parenthood. Now, a total of sixty clinics have closed, and only twelve of them were run by that organization. 
Sat August 18, 2012 1:57 am
AP Photo | The Abilene Reporter-News, Joy Lewis

The fallout from cuts to the state's family planning budget continues. While state legislators had Planned Parenthood in their sights when they slashed the budget by two-thirds, some sixty women's health clinics have closed permanently as a result, Carolyn Jones reports in the Texas Observer. And Planned Parenthood only operated twelve of the clinics that closed.

"In hoping to punish Planned Parenthood, politicians handicapped other providers and in so doing, left a safety net for 220,000 women in tatters. By politicizing women’s health, state lawmakers are risking a public health crisis," Jones wrote.

Jones distilled the impact of the array of cuts this way:

Under this new bare-bones regime, women are expected to go to federally qualified health centers, whether they are geographically accessible or not. Those health centers, battling to see more patients on less money, will be forced to underwrite their care with Women’s Health Program funds, other state and federal pots, and from private donations. Providers will also shift costs to patients. This gloomy scenario might work if three assumptions about poor women are true: that they are mobile, that they qualify for services under the Women’s Health Program (if it’s still around) and they can afford to share the cost of contraception.

The federally funded health clinics now have to serve a wider base, a classic example of "doing more with less." And they have raised prices to keep their doors open. "The result is that costs have shifted to patients, and exceptionally poor women now make hard choices about paying for their well-woman care. Some will find the cash, but an alarming number won't," Jones wrote.

Mimi Swartz broke down some of the increased costs women are facing in her August 2012 TEXAS MONTHLY cover story on women's health. "The tab for a wellness checkup, formerly covered by state and federal funds, now costs $133 – a prohibitive amount for someone having to choose between paying that or an electric bill," she wrote. And low-income women and teens who were once eligible to receive free birth control, now must cough up $94 to get a prescription for the pills.

Where have clinics closed? Many of the sixty clinics that have closed have been clustered around "the Panhandle, Central Texas, and on the border with Mexico," Jones wrote. Some of the shuttered Planned Parenthood clinics were in the Metroplex (Arlington, Mesquite, Plano, and Terrell), West Texas (Odessa), and South Texas (Brownsville, Mission, Rio Grande City, and Alice.)

Lawmakers were warned that these cuts would have dire effects for women across the state, Jones wrote: "Clinics would close and a spike in disease, pregnancies and abortions would follow," she wrote. But this argument did not sway them:

Regardless, they slashed the budget. Lawmakers were quite clear about their motivation: They hoped to drive abortion providers out of business. Their specific target—Planned Parenthood—also provides family planning and preventive health care to low income women. In their zeal to attack Planned Parenthood, politicians designed a funding formula that caused collateral damage.

At ThinkProgress, Tara Culp-Ressler slammed the politicization of women's health care:

Throughout the political battles over the War on Women , Planned Parenthood has become a buzzword for anti-choice Republicans who seek to equate Planned Parenthood clinics with death and destruction . However, the real destruction is wreaked when overarching, politically-motivated attacks on women’s health providers leave low-income women with no affordable contraceptive options, no available STI tests, no regular cancer screenings, and no control over their reproductive health.

And at the Texas Tribune , Thanh Tan lays out the state of the legal battle over the Women's Health Program. The state wants to exclude Planned Parenthood from the program, which had received the bulk of its funding ($35 million) each year from the federal government. 

Planned Parenthood is awaiting an October hearing in district court over whether its clinics can  stay in the Women’s Health Program. A separate case is moving through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In March, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott  sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  for pulling back funding over Texas' decision to eject clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the program.

As of November 1, the state will be tasked with running the Women's Health Program on its own, but officials are still hammering out how it will be funded.

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