The bill, introduced by House Democratic Rep. Lon Burnam in November, would strike Texas government code text that prohibits state funding for women’s health care from being applied to entities that perform or promote elective abortions.
Burnam’s principal opponents are Texas’ top Republicans Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. At an anti-abortion rally last month, Perry said, “The ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure that they are as rare as possible.” Dewhurst added that further laws limiting abortion were “on the way.”
But women in Burnam’s 90th District are suffering as a result of the ban. In 2011, more than 2,000 Texas Women’s Health Program patients in Tarrant County used Planned Parenthood as their primary health care provider.
And Arlington — which lies just outside of Burnam’s district — is reportedly the largest city in the United States with no public transportation system. According to Burnam, this makes it “10 times harder” for women to find another clinic, especially if they are low-income and have no vehicle of their own.
Planned Parenthood performed 333,964 abortions nationwide in 2011. In the same year, it saw 4.5 million people for sexually transmitted disease testing and treatments, 3.4 million people for contraception services, 1.3 million for cancer screening and prevention, and 1.2 million women for pregnancy tests and prenatal care.
“It seems very skewed, the idea that every woman going in [to Planned Parenthood] is getting an abortion,” said WHP patient Rachel Landon. “That’s not what it’s about at all.”
Texas lawmakers are still facing major financial problems. Although they gutted the number of state-approved family planning clients from more than 200,000 in 2011 to just 75,160 in 2012, the cost of serving WHP patients rose nearly 15%. In fact, Planned Parenthood has the lowest cost per client among women’s health centers at $168, while federally qualified health centers’ costs rose from $206 to $237 for the same services.
Burnam is adamant that Republicans’ anti-abortion stance will hurt not only WHP patients, but the state as well.
“Funding cuts made last legislative session, compounded with the governor’s ideological commitment not to take federal tax dollars, are leading women into desperate circumstances and severely limiting their access to health care,” he said.
“Texas is willing to leave millions in federal tax dollars on the table and deny health care for thousands of women just because the governor has an opposition to a specific nonprofit organization.”
The federal government ended funding for the WHP after Texas officially enforced the law, despite it covering most of the program’s cost. However, Perry remained undeterred by this development as he announced that the state would fund the Medicaid-sponsored program, though he did not specify how.
Burnam is not only fighting for the 160,000 women who are already going without health insurance as a result of the ban, but also to counter the recent federal ranking of Texas’ health care services and delivery as #50 in the nation. The state’s Medicaid coverage is one of the most limited in the country and its apparent future appears bleak at best.
However, Burnam remains optimistic that Texas can change.
“A lot of legislators acted inappropriately and without reflection last session,” he said. “It’s a learning process for my colleagues who don’t understand what they did to women and women’s health care.”