53 Texas Family Planning Clinics Close
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In addition, out of those surveyed, 35 organizations can no longer provide discounted contraceptives and are no longer exempt from parental consent laws for teens seeking access to birth control. As a result, teens must travel farther to get contraceptives. Texas has one of highest rates of teen births in the nation, ranking fourth overall in 2010, with 52.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As funding is slashed, surviving clinics are increasingly dependent on the Medicaid-based Women’s Health Program for service reimbursements, Potter said, but 90 percent of the federal-state program is slated to be cut due to objections raised by conservative lawmakers over Planned Parenthood’s inclusion in the funding stream, signifying an even greater burden on the already fragile network.
To offset the shortage of providers in the ragged landscape, researchers found, local hospitals in some communities are offering their space and services to help care for women, but they too are strained.
“We are witnessing the dismantling of a safety net that took decades to build and could not easily be recreated even if funding were restored soon,” the report says.
Potter cast serious doubt on the ability of the network to absorb displaced WHP patients.
“It’s very hard to imagine how a whole new infrastructure is somehow going to take over that volume of services,” he said. “Jeopardizing the interdependence between the clinics and the program may well cause the leaky ship to sink.”
Low-income women are being hit hardest by the legislative cutbacks, the study’s authors note, writing: “Disadvantaged women must choose between obtaining contraception and meeting other immediate economic needs. And, as one of our interviewees pointed out, providers are put in the position of ‘trying to decide, out of the most vulnerable, who is the most, most vulnerable.’”
Potter testified at a recent Department of State Health Services public hearing on the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program. He described family planning clinics as being on the “edge of survival.” The clinics’ legs have been severely weakened, he said at the time, and the network is stressed overall, leading to deeper reductions in contraception access.
Potter told TAI that his next step is conducting focus groups across eight regions in the state to evaluate how women are reacting to the changes in reproductive health care. Ideally, the data collected thus far will aid in the decision-making process during the upcoming 2013 legislative session, but the full impact won’t be felt until the following session, he said.
While the study says that “[t]ime will reveal the full effects of these budget cuts on the rates of unintended pregnancies and induced abortions and on state and federal health care costs,” current damage is apparent.
“Already, the legislation has created circumstances that force clinics and women in Texas to make sacrifices that jeopardize reproductive health and well-being,” the study says.
The study’s authors suggest the landscape in the Texas may serves as a cautionary tale to other states seeking to curb family planning funds.
“Texas’s experience may be a harbinger of the broader impact of eliminating public funding for family planning,” the report says.
The report concludes that members of Congress and state lawmakers “should consider the results of such research and take a hard look at the implications for women, families, and communities of restricting access to contraception.”