Public hearing to be held for changes to Texas Women’s Health Program

Michelle Marie Garcia

The Texas Department of Health Services will host a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 4, regarding the implementation of new rules for the Texas Women’s Health Program, a debate that has ignited controversy among women across the state, including a ban on Planned Parenthood as a provider for the program. The Women’s Health Program received a hit in March when Gov. Rick Perry announced Texas would now exclude Planned Parenthood, a family planning agency that provides health care to about 130,000 low-income women, from the program because it provided abortions. Since then, Planned Parenthood has sued the state to remain in the program. Courts ruled in Perry’s action legal in August. The case will go before a Texas district court in October.

“Planned Parenthood is the sole provider of health care to more than 130,000 low-income women in Texas,” said Susan Heinzelman, Director of UT’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. “Many students who do not have health care providers here in Austin rely on Planned Parenthood for their preventative care.”

Sarah Wheat, an interim CEO for the Texas Capital Region Planned Parenthood, said Planned Parenthood currently serves more women enrolled in the Texas Women’s Health Program than any other provider and the state funds about 10 percent of Planned Parenthood’s operations. Planned Parenthood operates separate clinics for women seeking abortions and has stated Texas funds do not go to fund abortions.

Wheat said Planned Parenthood estimates it saves the state about $45 million a year by providing preventative screenings and tests.

“About 47 percent of women who receive services receive them from Planned Parenthood, so almost half of the women in the program won’t be able to access the services,” Wheat said. “It is going to have an enormously negative effect on women.”

Proposed rules for the Women’s Healthcare program would also ban doctors from discussing abortion with any WHP client. In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood claimed this violates free speech.

Texas already has several laws in place regarding abortion, including one that requires a woman to receive an ultrasound 24 hours before having an abortion and listen to a description of it in full detail.

The Woman’s Right To Know Act also requires a woman to be given information about adoption and the medical complications abortions can create before they have an abortion.

“It’s a bad choice to limit funding because it might increase risk factors for some students,” Kelsey Duncan, Radio-television-and-film sophomore, said. “We’re all college students. We don’t always have a lot of money, which means we need to go to the most affordable place we can find.”

The public can attend the hearing at 1:30 p.m. in the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center located at 4800 N. Lamar.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: New rules in Women's Health Program prompt DHS hearing