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GOP Aide Jumps Ship Over Women's Health Policy

Aide says boss' actions 'shameful'

By Jordan Smith, 3:04PM, Wed. Mar. 7, 2012

GOP Aide Jumps Ship Over Women's Health Policy
Illustration by Jason Stout

The war on women waged with gusto last year under the dome of the Texas Capitol has claimed at least one legislative aide. Allison Catalano, who began working for Denton GOP Rep. Myra Crownover last summer, resigned her post this week, citing Crownover's support for cuts to women's health funding.

In a letter to Crownover, Catalano wrote that she decided to resign her position because of "recent decisions made by you, Representative Crownover, along with other legislators" related to the draconian cuts to the women's health budget. Republican lawmakers led the attack on that budget, striping two-thirds of the roughly $100 million biennial budget typically slated to pay for basic preventative and reproductive family-planning health care for hundreds of thousands of low-income and uninsured Texas women. Lawmakers said the point of the cuts was to cripple Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of GOP ire, but practically speaking, the budget cuts have forced smaller independent clinics to shut their doors, and has left the state with fewer providers, receiving fewer dollars, to figure out how to deal with a growing population of women in need.

To top it off, the only bright spot in the otherwise bleak landscape, the Women's Health Program – a Medicaid-waiver program designed to provide preventative healthcare to women who would not otherwise be eligible for Medicaid unless pregnant – will now likely die, also because of a move by GOP lawmakers last year to redefine the term "affiliate" in order to eliminate Planned Parenthood from participation in the program. PP clinics across the state in 2010 served 46% of the roughly 183,000 program enrollees. Although the program had always been designed to exclude abortion providers from participation, lawmakers in 2011 directed the Health and Human Services Commission to come up with a new definition for affiliate that would define PP clinics that do not provide abortion care, and were already participating in the WHP, as affiliates of other PP clinics that do provide legally-protected abortion care, but that weren't actually serving as WHP providers. The feds have said this tinkering in order to exclude an otherwise qualified provider is prohibited by federal law (Title XIX, to be specific). Word that the feds would not approve the WHP for continuation with the unlawful exclusion of PP has been met with righteous – and completely disingenuous – indignation. Gov. Rick Perry has been leading that pack, blaming the "pro-abortion" Obama administration for putting "funding for abortion providers and affiliates ahead of funding for women's cancer screenings and other preventative health care," he wrote in an editorial posted online. No, that would be the state of Texas, which, with the one-two punch of last year's budget cuts and the retooling of the WHP is effectively cutting off more than 300,000 women from access to healthcare. So much for reducing the number of Medicaid-paid births, increasing the early detection of cancers – or, for that matter, reducing the number of abortions in the state.

Indeed, it is with that backdrop that Catalano, a recent graduate of University of North Texas who came to the Capitol to work for Crownover with the idea that she would be able "to serve the interests of Texans," resigned her post this week. In a resignation letter she wrote that the decision to support the funding cuts that would deprive women of "free and low-cost health care...is shameful." The Texas Legislature, "79% male, 66% over the age of 50, and most in the upper echelons of the income bracket, has absolutely failed to act on the behalf of those you were chosen to represent by enacting legislation that adversely affects women, who compromise half of your constituents," she wrote. "Trampling on the rights of women in an effort to grandstand against the federal government is simply wrong and I cannot be a part of it." (Crownover spokesman Kevin Cruser said Catalano was a fine employee and "is fully entitled to her opinions." The office wishes her well in her future endeavors, he said.)

Catalano wrote that she hoped Crownover would "reconsider this oppressive legislation." Indeed, whether lawmakers will rethink policies that negatively impact hundreds of thousands of Texas women – just a small percentage of women actually in need of these services in the state – remains to be seen. Hopefully, by the time lawmakers reconvene in January 2013, the damage to the healthcare infrastructure for women won't already be permanent.

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