Rick Perry's Texas: A Perspective from the Front Lines
By: Melaney A. Linton, President Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Action Fund
Governor Rick Perry‘s record shows that he can’t be trusted when it comes to women’s health. Time and again he has shown his true colors: he chooses politics over Texas women.
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States and home to the Texas Medical Center — the largest and most advanced medical community in the world. Yet, like communities in rural West Texas or in deep South Texas, tens of thousands of women in the Houston area lack access to basic health care. A quarter of women and men living in Houston don’t have health care coverage — one of the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation.
Not only are more than one-quarter of Texas women uninsured, but Texas has the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the U.S. Yet, even in spite of these staggering statistics, Texas Governor Rick Perry is continuing to systematically sabotage low-income women’s access to basic, preventive health care. His most recent offense includes pushing for an unconstitutional rule that if allowed by the courts, would effectively gut the entire Women’s Health Program (WHP) and risk it’s complete demise. Perry is willing to risk the health and lives of thousands of women in the state, in order to advance his extreme and dangerous agenda. This critical health program provides preventive health care, including birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings, to more than 130,000 low-income women each year. But apparently, these women are of little consequence to Governor Perry.
Through the WHP, low-income Texas women finally have access to well-woman exams, cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, and affordable birth control. And more than 40 percent of these women turned to a Planned Parenthood health center to get that care. Now, Governor Perry and Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs are trying to exclude Planned Parenthood from serving women through the WHP.
This is just the latest move Governor Perry and his out-of-touch Republican colleagues in the Texas legislature have made to deny health care to women. Budget cuts in the 2011 legislative session slashed $73 million from the state’s family planning program – a more than two-thirds reduction in funds. The legislature cut these funds even though the bipartisan legislative budget board informed legislatures that these cuts would result in over $231 million in additional costs in the first biennium. Opponents of women’s health cut them anyway. These cuts took away lifesaving screenings like Pap tests, clinical breast exams, and birth control from 160,000 low-income Texas women per year. And it was all done to score political points with their far-right wing political base.
The fact of the matter is 60 percent of the women in the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) service area who are enrolled in the WHP get their health care from one of PPGC’s health centers. PPGC is their trusted provider, and they turn to Planned Parenthood for the health care they desperately need and deserve.
Cutting off access to basic health care for poor women is simply cruel, but it’s a trend we’ve seen throughout this election cycle. It’s fitting Mitt Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination in Texas, because he has said if elected president, he’d take the same extreme actions. He said he’d “get rid” of Planned Parenthood. Just like Perry, Romney is most concerned with his political ambitions. He can’t be bothered by the fact that by getting rid of Planned Parenthood he would deny access to the critical preventive health care that nearly three million people a year rely on for cancer screenings, birth control, and other preventive care. This is dangerous. It is terrible public health policy, and it’s out of step with what most Americans want.
A recent study by the George Washington University found that Governor Perry’s political agenda to exclude Planned Parenthood health centers from the WHP jeopardizes access to care for nearly 52,000 low-income women. The report examined the capacity of the state’s community health centers to scale up their services to compensate for the loss of family planning funding and Planned Parenthood health centers from the WHP. The authors conclude that it would be virtually impossible for health centers to fill the need. Can you imagine what life would be like under a President Romney, on a country-wide scale?
The fact is there simply aren’t enough women’s health care providers to fill the gaping hole left by eliminating Planned Parenthood, the single largest provider in the WHP. The GW researchers found that the current provider network would have to increase its WHP participation 12 times over its current size in order to keep up with current demand. This is simply impossible.
Texas women are fed up with these relentless attacks. We realize Governor Perry has a history of forgetting; but we won’t forget. Texas women are watching and so are women across the U.S.