Opportunity that exists in the abstract: Texas takes over the Women’s Health Program

From Ben Philpott at The Texas Tribune:

The state this week launched its own version of the Women’s Health Program. Texas is funding the program on its own because the federal government pulled funding after the state blocked Planned Parenthood from participating.

Planned Parenthood has sued and there will be a hearing on January 11 regarding their inclusion. But a judge ruled on December 31 that Texas could go ahead with their version of the WHP that excludes PP. And so on January 1, the 48,000 low-income Texans who used the WHP at PP suddenly had no doctor.

Here is how the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is arguing that removing $30 million in federal funding and access to doctors for 48,000 is not a problem (quotes from Philpott’s report):

“There is one thing that’s actually been added, and that is treatment for some sexually transmitted diseases,” said Linda Edwards Gockel, a spokeswoman for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. “In the past, the program only screened for them but did not provide for any treatment.” […]

In the meantime, the state has been recruiting doctors and clinics for its program. Gockel said 1,000 providers have been added to the state-run program.

“So that makes a total of 3,500 providers statewide,” she said. “And what we have found when we started to run these numbers is that we actually have greater capacity now than we did before with the Medicaid program.”

I have a few thoughts about this:

1) Andrea Grimes has already proven that the list of WHP providers that Rick Perry’s administration and the HHSC use as proof of access is, to say the least, flawed and inaccurate.

2) Unless those 1,000 providers are in the exact same spaces, especially the rural spaces, where PP is the main, if not only, provider, those numbers just don’t matter. While for the sake of the 48,000 people who’ve lost their health care I hope that is what is happening, I don’t know why we should trust that it is.

3) I am utterly baffled at why the HHSC or Rick Perry’s administration expect that when they talk at Texans about the good this new version of the WHP will do, they expect us to believe them. The new version of the WHP, a program set up to give low-income Texas women better reproductive health care, only exists because the HHSC and Rick Perry’s administration believe so fundamentally that abortion is neither necessary health care nor part of reproductive health care that they have refused $30 million in federal funding in order to cut off any health care centers that may have an affiliation – AN AFFILIATION – with an abortion provider (and you cannot even BE pregnant and be in the WHP). Yes, I certainly trust these people to legislate the best reproductive health care.

4) This fight over the WHP highlights the limits of a pro-choice movement whose only rhetoric is about CHOICE. Perry’s people and the HHSC are saying, “LOOK, low-income Texans still have a choice. In theory, they are just as able to participate in the WHP without the inclusion of PP. We have not taken that away.”

Yet, when it comes to true reproductive justice, it is not enough to have a choice or some opportunity that exists only in the abstract. Being able to access comprehensive, affordable reproductive health care is as important as securing the right to access that health care.

The Texas GOP knows this. That is why state senator Dan Patrick (the mastermind behind our forced (trans)vaginal ultrasound bill) began the 2013 legislative session proposing to make it nearly impossible for rural people in Texas to access abortion. This is the reason that anti-choice advocates are hitting so hard at the state level these days: tackling what they see as the problem of abortion state by state, community by community is so much easier because you don’t have to go after the larger theoretical idea of choice but instead can just block access in as many ways as possible. In short: destroying justice by destroying access. And these are the people we are supposed to trust when they promise easy access to reproductive health care?

What we need right now from Perry and the HHSC are specifics about access. Their new changes to the WHP won’t matter if access to providers does not reach as widely as it did when PP was part of the program. Throwing out numbers from a flawed list told to us by people we have no reason to trust when it comes to reproductive health care does nothing to assuage my fears about the state’s takeover the WHP. For actual people who relied on the WHP and PP for their health care, this move could potentially be financially, personally damaging. While I hope against hope that no one is affected that way by these changes, I know enough about the state of reproductive health care and reproductive justice in Texas to know better. We should all be worried.


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