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Cancer Survivors Who Relied On Planned Parenthood’s Treatment Tell Texas Not To Defund It

A Planned Parenthood rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY
A Planned Parenthood rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIC GAY

As Texas lawmakers attempt to restructure the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program in a way that would prevent Planned Parenthood from participating, women who have relied on the national women’s health organization for their own cancer treatment are pushing back.

Diane Dunn and Gay Norman, two Texas residents who discovered they had cancer after being screened at Planned Parenthood clinics, are telling their stories in a video that’s part of a new campaign to oppose Texas politicians’ legislative priorities.

The campaign, called Save Our Screenings, was launched on Monday to “inform and motivate Texans to take action against the Texas Senate’s proposal to reduce access to lifesaving Breast and Cervical Cancer Screenings,” according to a press release from Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. Dunn and Norman speak in very personal terms about being uninsured, relying on Planned Parenthood for screenings, and learning they had cancer.

“I found a lump in my left breast and knew that I was in serious trouble,” Dunn recounts in the video. “The only reason I’m here today is because of Planned Parenthood. There wasn’t any other option I had.”

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“I would be dead if it hadn’t been for this program,” Norman, who had cervical cancer, says frankly. “There are so many women that don’t know about it that could use it.”

Dunn’s and Norman’s appeals to preserve the program echo a recent call from State Rep. Sarah Davis (R), one of the only Republicans in the state legislature who has consistently resisted efforts to cut off access to women’s health clinics. Earlier this month, Davis told her GOP colleagues that women will die if the legislature continues to chip away funding for Planned Parenthood.

“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 Republican lawmaker, who has offered an amendment to undo the proposed changes, said at the time. “If we don’t have the provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

Under the Texas Senate proposal, a revised funding structure for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screenings program would give first priority to community health clinics and federally qualified health centers, and second priority to “non-public entities” that provide comprehensive family planning services. The third and final tier would include Planned Parenthood — something that the women’s health organization, which serves about 10 percent of the low-income patients who participate in the program, says is just another way of slashing its funding.

Indeed, the abortion opponents who have been pushing for the change have been clear about the fact that they specifically want to cut off funding for abortion providers. And it’s just the latest tactic in a years-long strategy. In pursuit of the same stated goal, the GOP-controlled legislature made deep cuts to the state’s family planning budget in 2011. Then, the following year, lawmakers created an entirely new Women’s Health Program specifically to exclude Planned Parenthood from the pool of government-funded Medicaid providers.

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Those legislative decisions have had huge consequences. A report report issued by the state Health and Human Services Commission found that, after Texas defunded Planned Parenthood, about 30,000 fewer women received care through the family planning program. A study in the American Journal of Public Health also confirmed that the program served 54 percent fewer patients as a result of the budget cuts.

The 2011 cuts forced about 100 clinics to close their doors, and harsh abortion restrictions passed in 2013 led to another round of clinic closures. Now, the proposed changes to the cancer screening program could impact at least another 34 providers — even in addition to Planned Parenthood clinics.

Texas has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country, and Hispanic women in the state are disproportionately likely to struggle with the disease. Two weeks ago, Latina women held a hearing to decry the reproductive health crisis unfolding in their communities, saying that Texas’ policies have contributed to human rights violations.