Culture War Casualty: Women’s Health Care

The religious right’s crusade to restrict women’s access to birth control and reproductive health care services is increasingly fueled by falsehoods and distortions. A press release yesterday from The Heidi Group, a Round Rock-based anti-abortion organization, is a classic demonstration of the problem.

The press release actually praises a measure passed by the Texas Legislature last year that could end the Medicaid-funded Women’s Health Program. That program provides services like breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and STD prevention for 130,000 low-income and uninsured women across the state. Nearly half of those women get such services through Planned Parenthood clinics. But the new law bars providing any Medicaid money to doctors or clinics that are affiliated with organizations that provide abortions — a ban targeting Planned Parenthood even though that organization’s clinics offering services through the Women’s Health Program are legally and financially separate from facilities that offer abortion services.

Carol Everett, the founder and president of The Heidi Group, suggests in her group’s press release that the new state policy will actually lead to better “comprehensive and primary care” options for low-income women:

“Texas women deserve the highest standard of health care — not an abortion provider dispensing birth control anticipating an added financial benefit when the woman returns for a full-fee abortion – when the birth control fails. Now women can have their blood pressure checked and treated; diabetes diagnosed and treated as well as have a trusted medical home because of this new law. Texans are elevating the standard of health care for our poor women.”

That’s absurd.

First, the purpose of the Women’s Health Program isn’t “comprehensive and primary care.” It’s focus is on family planning exams, related health screenings and birth control.

Second, the federal government — which pays 90 percent of the Medicaid Women’s Health Program costs — repeatedly warned Texas officials that limiting women’s choice of caregiver is illegal under federal law. So by barring Planned Parenthood from providing health services through the program, the state will likely have to shut down the entire program on March 14 for all 130,000 women.

Third, the Legislature slashed funding for women’s health by two-thirds — meaning 180,000 women will lose access to preventative health care this year.

Finally, The Heidi Group is being extremely hypocritical. The group’s press release criticizes Planned Parenthood for not providing comprehensive health care services for women. But take a look at the recommended “healthcare providers” for pregnant women listed on The Heidi Group’s website — those so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” provide little or no health care services. In fact, such centers exist primarily to persuade pregnant women not to seek an abortion. And the state has actually increased its funding for such centers (nearly all of which are faith-based) under the Alternatives to Abortion Services Program.

The tragic truth here is that misguided legislators and organizations like The Heidi Group are deliberately sacrificing the health care of tens of thousands of women because of a single-minded obsession with “stopping” abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics that weren’t doing abortions and couldn’t do so under existing law anyway.