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Texas May Slash Cancer Screenings For Low-Income Women

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

After passing some of the most sweeping anti-abortion measures in the country and effectively defunding Planned Parenthood, anti-choice lawmakers in the Lone Star State aren’t done yet.

This week, the Texas Senate filed a draft budget that would restructure the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program to prevent Planned Parenthood from participating. Abortion opponents have been pushing for the change as a way of continuing to target the national women’s health organization, in an ongoing crusade to cut off funds from abortion providers.

“There are many members that feel very strongly that the facilities that receive that funding should not be facilities that are performing abortions, so the answer is: Don’t perform abortions and you get the money,” State Sen. Jane Nelson (R), the chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee who ultimately crafted the budget, told reporters on Wednesday.

The revised structure for the program would give top funding priority to community health clinics and federally qualified health centers. Then, “non-public entities” that provide comprehensive family planning services — like Planned Parenthood — would be ranked on the second tier. The women’s health organization says it’s just another way of cutting its funding and targeting its clinics for closure.

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Planned Parenthood officials say they serve about 10 percent of the low-income patients who participate in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program. According to an op-ed penned by Cecile Richards, the group’s president, more than 3,000 Texas women relied on their clinics for cancer screenings last year alone.

“It’s unthinkable that the Texas Legislature is willing to turn back the clock on something as basic as access to cancer screenings,” Richards wrote in that piece. “Texas can do better — and Texas women deserve better.”

It’s hardly the first time that Richards’ group has faced this type of political opposition in the Lone Star State. The Senate’s proposed budget represents just the latest attack in a years-long campaign to cut off Planned Parenthood clinics from Texas’ publicly funded family planning network, which is called the Women’s Health Program.

Four years ago, in pursuit of the same stated goal — to prevent public dollars from going to abortion providers — the GOP-controlled legislature made deep cuts to the state’s family planning budget. Then, lawmakers created an entirely new Women’s Health Program specifically to exclude Planned Parenthood, a move that cost the state its federal funding. Without being able to get the free care they once received at Planned Parenthood clinics, low-income and rural women have been left in search of new doctors, and many have struggled to get the basic care they need.

Some of the Democratic lawmakers in the Senate have been fighting back. On Wednesday, State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) delivered an impassioned speech on the floor in opposition to the proposed budget, sharing a personal story of tragedy to illustrate the potential impact of the cuts.

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“Within the last year, I lost a niece of mine to cervical cancer. Tragically, my family and I are not alone. Too many women and families face tragedy and heartbreak from this disease,” Garcia said. “Texas has one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the country. We can do better. We need to make sure that women have access to crucial cancer screenings and to trusted providers of that care, like Planned Parenthood.”

Indeed, the incidence of cervical cancer in Texas is 19 percent higher than the national average. The Latinas living in the state are the most likely to be diagnosed with this type of cancer, and mortality rates are especially high along the impoverished Texas-Mexico border — largely because immigrant women in particular face significant barriers to getting the regular health screenings they need.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health asserts that the recent policies put forth by the Texas legislature have so severely reduced the Hispanic community’s access to reproductive health care that it constitutes a potential human rights violation. Last fall, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group took its case all the way to a United Nations committee, arguing that “the Committee against Torture must hold the U.S. government accountable for allowing this reproductive health crisis to unfold on its watch.”