Texas lawmakers met on Thursday to discuss “legislative achievements in women’s healthcare” as part of an interim charge to monitor the implementation of a retooled publicly funded family planning care delivery system. Legislators said they’re attempting to address the consequences of a $67 million cut to state family planning services in 2011—which closed 76 family planning clinics—and the ouster of Planned Parenthood from state-funded family planning services.
Lawmakers have since attempted to replace the cut funds, in part, by looping primary care doctors and academic-based health-care providers into the provision of family planning care, while the state’s right-wing contingent has continued to refuse to implement a federal Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act that would enable an estimated 687,000 Texas women to access health insurance.
Reproductive rights advocates balked at conservative lawmakers’ use of the term “legislative achievements,” noting that the health and human services committee chairperson, Sen. Jane Nelson, left Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion access law, and the resulting shutter of 16 abortion providers, off the meeting agenda.
“What achievements?” asked Texas journalist and author Ellen Sweets during public testimony at the hearing, which she called a “charade.”
“Unless it means reopening the clinics that you helped shutter, I don’t understand what this means,” said Sweets. “This hearing feels like one of those public events designed to make us feel that you’re concerned about reproductive health and women’s health, when all that’s happening is perfunctory.”
While the committee heard testimony from state health officials, about 100 members of Texas’ “orange army” convened at the capitol complex, joined by lawmakers including state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate running for lieutenant governor.
“This is your capitol,” Van de Putte told supporters, who gathered in the outdoor rotunda, chanting, “Not the church, not the state, we’re the ones who ovulate!”
Van de Putte, a pharmacist, told the crowd that she’d had clients come to her seeking to “bring back” their periods.
During the hearing, Sen. Nelson, who voted to cut family planning funds in Texas in 2011, said she intended to show the expanded capacity of the retooled family planning programs, which include funding streams through the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the Texas Women’s Health Program, and the expanded primary care program. However, when pressed, state health-care officials were ultimately unable to say definitively how many patients were currently receiving care under the increased funding versus the number of patients receiving care previous to the cuts.
In November 2013, DSHS reported that family planning enrollment had decreased by 77 percent, while overall cost per client had increased by 17 percent. Texas DSHS’ family planning program served more than 200,000 clients in the 2010 fiscal year; in the 2014-2015 biennium, it estimates that it is expected to serve just 65,000.
According to the Texas Women’s Health Care Coalition (TWHCC), there are 1.3 million Texans who are in need of affordable reproductive health care, but even with the $100 million increase to the primary care expansion, the state only has the capacity to reach about a third of them.
“The need is massive,” said TWHCC’s Dr.
Janet Realini during public testimony. “And even though the funding levels were increased during the last session, that’s not enough to reach all the need.”
Fifty-one Texans signed up to speak on family planning at Thursday’s hearing, and testimony is expected to continue throughout the afternoon.