In Texas, women and their families will be endangered by a lack of state and federal family planning funds. And, it’s the state legislators and governor themselves that caused this with irresponsible actions. Even opponents of abortion should recognize that cuts in funding for family planning and taking actions that required the federal government to cease Medicaid funding is counterproductive: it does not limit abortions but it hurts women’s basic health.
According to Newsweek, last year Texas legislature slashed family planning funding from $115.1 million to $37.9 million – a two-thirds cut. Then this year Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill excluding any clinic that provides abortions from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. However, the money for that program does not merely come from the state. The federal government pays for 90% of the Medicaid Women’s Health Program and the federal rules of Medicaid state that, in implementing the fund, states cannot discriminate against qualified family planning providers.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services responded to the law by announcing that they will cut off all Medicaid funding for family planning to the state of Texas, which is a $35 million loss to Texas women and their families.
Although both of Texas’s moves in cutting family planning funding last year and passing this new law that refuses federal funding were targeted at Planned Parenthood and halting abortion in the state, they are simply not effective on that front. As Planned Parenthood repeatedly states, their clinics that provide abortions (14 clinics in the state of Texas) are run as entirely separate organizations than the 51 clinics in Texas that provide other basic sexual-health services. The 14 clinics that provide abortions receive no public money and thus are unaffected by Texas’s cuts and lose of money. Meanwhile, the other 51 clinics that do not provide abortions are the ones being affected, many closing their doors or only being able to see a third of the patients they used to.
Even more serious and infuriating than the fact that Texas’s actions of forfeiting money are completely pointless is that they are severely damaging to women. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women in the country. Additionally, the Women’s Health Program provided reproductive health care for more than 130,000 poor women that didn’t meet Texas’ own narrow Medicaid eligibility requirements. These women’s access to basic reproductive services is and will be seriously impaired.
This is happening while OB/GYN visits are making headlines for being vital to women’s health.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “The purpose of the annual ob-gyn visit is to detect and treat any new or ongoing health problems as well as to help prevent future ones from developing.”
The standard components of these annual exams include assessing current health status, nutrition, physical activity, sexual practices, and tobacco, alcohol and drug use. The physical exam itself includes not only breast, abdominal and routine pelvic exams, but also height, weight, body mass index and blood pressure.
What’s striking about the physical exam and assessment of current health status is that OB/GYN visits go beyond merely reproductive health but are protecting women on a broad health front, checking for other health risks. A recent study established that screening women for heart disease at ob-gyn clinics might detect cardiovascular risk and head off heart problems for women who do not see a primary care physician. The study found that two of every ten women considered they OB/GYN doctor their primary healthcare provider and researchers believe the number might be higher (up to 25-30%) if they had included more inner city clinics.
Although heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, women are often unaware of risk factors or under-treated. The study found that two in ten patients did not know or had never been tested for their blood pressure or blood sugar and almost four in ten did not know their cholesterol levels or had never had cholesterol tests. The survey many ob-gyn clinics now hand out can be completed in two or three minutes and can increase prevention of heart disease and provide critical education to women, making these visits invaluable to women’s health.
No matter where you stand on abortion, it’s time to recognize that women’s health is important and reproductive rights clinics help women live healthier lives, often when no alternative is available. Texas needs to recognize the broad health value that Planned Parenthood and other clinics provide to women, which goes far beyond the current debate over abortion.