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Planned Parenthood Again in Lawmakers' Crosshairs

Photo by Jacob Villanueva for the Texas Tribune

GOP lawmakers' battle against Planned Parenthood resumed today, as lawmakers on a Senate subcommittee passed out a bill that would renew the Texas Women's Health Program, but prohibit the country's most prominent family planning organization from participating.

When the Women’s Health Program was founded in 2005, it came with explicit restrictions: Participating clinics cannot perform, promote or be “affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions.” Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, says this provision should exclude Planned Parenthood already — but hasn't. His bill “makes the state’s ability to defend the legislature’s intent stronger” by cutting out all so-called "specialty family planning clinics," of which Planned Parenthood is one, in favor of clinics providing comprehensive care.  

Deuell's bill also adds a "self-destruct" provision that would shut down the Women's Health Program entirely if a specialty family planning clinic successfully sued the state to be included in the program. Deuell admits his bill targets Planned Parenthood, and says the provision is the best solution to ensure the organization doesn't receive state funds. “We tried to find other ways to do it and just could not,” Deuell says.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, and the lone dissenter in the Health and Human Services subcommittee's 5-1 vote, said he couldn’t support the bill because it “carries the risk that the program will cease entirely.” He also defended Planned Parenthood clinics, saying they have “a track record and a history of providing services without complaint.”

More than 40 percent of patients in the Women's Health Program currently receive services from a Planned Parenthood clinic. Participating clinics do not provide abortions — they prescribe birth control and other contraceptives, screen for breast and cervical cancer and test for STDs. Planned Parenthood said in a statement that they provide healthcare to more than 40,000 women in Texas and save Texans $40 million in taxpayer funds every year. 

Planned Parenthood issued a letter to Deuell before the committee hearing, stating that the organization would follow through with a lawsuit should the bill pass. The letter says the provision to shut down the program if Planned Parenthood successfully sues is "constitutionally abhorrent, fiscally irresponsible, and will leave tens of thousands of women without access to basic health care services."

"This bill dictates where women can go for their reproductive health care and engages in reckless politics by dismantling a successful program,” said Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, in a statement.

In a ruling this February, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott seemed to agree that existing law prohibits the Health and Human Services Commission from contracting — i.e. issuing Medicaid waivers from the Women’s Health Program — with “affiliates” of clinics that provide elective abortion services. HHSC is currently determining new rules to define "affiliates," and prevent them from receiving funding.

Becca Aaronson develops data interactives and reports for The Texas Tribune. After an internship in fall 2010, she was hired by the Tribune to help cover the 82nd legislative session. She previously interned at the Houston Chronicle. Becca is a native of Austin who graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., with a degree in cultural theory.