Health

GOP Lawmaker Warns Women Will Die If Texas Keeps Defunding Planned Parenthood

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

A Planned Parenthood rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol

A Republican lawmaker in Texas is pushing back on her colleagues’ proposal to gut funding for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics, warning that women will die if they don’t have access to the health providers they need.

The Texas Senate is currently attempting to restructure the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program in a way that would prevent Planned Parenthood from participating. It represents lawmakers’ latest attempt to strip funding from the national women’s health organization, which has come under repeated attack from abortion opponents.

At a legislative meeting on Tuesday, State Rep. Sarah Davis (R) spoke out against that particular aspect of the Senate’s proposed budget, pointing out that excluding Planned Parenthood from the program will limit the number of health clinics where low-income women are able to receive cancer screenings.

“I don’t think it is appropriate to continue to fund the women’s health program so that we can make some type of a political statement as Republicans that we care about women, only to chip away at the safety net of the providers,” the GOP lawmaker said. “If we don’t have the provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

Davis has proposed a measure that would eliminate the proposed changes to Texas’ cancer screening program. She’s concerned that the federal government wouldn’t approve of the new system, which places clinics into different tiers depending on whether they’re public or private. She says that Texas could lose out on $8.8 million per year in federal funds toward these particular health services.

The Houston lawmaker has emerged as somewhat of an outlier within her party because she believes the government does not have a place in the abortion debate. Davis was the only Republican in the House to vote against a harsh package of abortion restrictions that first came up for debate in 2013. In an op-ed published at the time, she explained that she was worried the legislation would “harm thousands of women seeking health care, while alienating millions of Texas women voters.”

Planned Parenthood currently serves about 10 percent of the patients who participate in the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program, according to officials from the organization. Last year, an estimated 3,000 Texas women went to Planned Parenthood clinics to get checked for cancer. It’s a particularly critical service for residents of Texas, which has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country.

Even without further changes to the state’s cancer screening program, the reproductive health landscape in Texas is already bleak. The state’s providers haven’t completely recovered from deep cuts to the family planning network that the legislature approved in 2011, which forced about 100 clinics to close their doors. Two years ago, lawmakers successfully excluded Planned Parenthood from the network of providers that are authorized to provide family planning services to women on Medicaid, leaving those patients scrambling to find new doctors. On top of that, harsh restrictions on abortion passed in 2013 have led to another round of clinic closures.

Particularly in rural parts of the state, impoverished women have lost all access to basic health services. The clinics that remain open are so burdened with patients that waiting lists can stretch for more than six months. Just this week, Latina women held a hearing about the reproductive health crisis unfolding in their communities, saying that Texas’ policies have contributed to human rights violations.