Point Austin: Perry's Magic Wand

The attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on us all

Point Austin: Perry's Magic Wand
Photo by John Anderson

Where was Rick Perry when the state funding for family-planning services was being slashed by two-thirds? He was cheering from the owner's box, having declared that not a dime of the Rainy Day Fund would be used to cover essential social services, not for public education or health care or anything else.

What's he doing this week? Braying that he's the true friend of Texas women and that he will save the Women's Health Pro­gram from those evil carpetbaggers in Wash­ington who are overriding the 10th Amend­ment and states' rights (most memorably employed to defend slavery) by refusing to countenance Perry's illegal exclusion of Planned Parenthood clinics from participating in the WHP. The feds pay 90% of the cost of the Medicaid-waiver program for preventative health care, but they forbid discrimination against qualified providers. They won't pay for Perry's lawbreaking.

As Jordan Smith reports again this week ("Perry Continues Assault on Women's Health Care,"), thanks to the governor's posturing on abortion (which has nothing to do with the WHP), as of today, Wednesday, March 14, tens of thousands more Texas women will go without basic health care. That's over and above the roughly 160,000 left without access to care from earlier budget cuts, and those numbers do not even approach the actual need. Of the estimated 1.5 million Texas women needing access to reproductive health care, about 15% were being served before last year's budget cuts.

As for abortion? Even setting aside the fact that none of the federal or state money we're discussing was paying for abortions – that's already illegal, many times over – experts estimate a 22% increase in the number of Texas abortions resulting from lack of reproductive and family-planning services as well as a spike in Medicaid-paid births (already 56% of total births in Texas) and the $2.9 billion public cost of those births.

To reiterate: Perry's posturing is entirely about right-wing politics – not abortions, not fiscal responsibility, and definitely not the health care of Texas women.

Lawbreaking and Lies

In retrospect, it's obvious that Perry's 2011 targeting of Planned Parenthood was cynical marketing preparation for a potential presidential run (that worked out well, too). The WHP was created in 2005 (during the Bush administration), and from its inception, state administrators were told by their own lawyers that federal law banned discrimination against qualified providers – and under the Constitution Perry claims to uphold, federal law rules. Medicaid administrators reiterated that condition for funding last year (when Smith began reporting it) – yet now Perry feigns surprise that the inevitable has happened: Medicaid will not fund a state program that is in violation of federal law.

Perry's public statements on the matter have been brazenly self-serving and dishonest. His press release last week denounced the "political motivation" of the Obama administration upholding long-standing federal law and proclaimed his determination to "fight this egregious federal overreach and defend life, our state's laws and the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution" – that is, those parts of the Constitution he chooses. He also says banning Planned Parenthood – a major provider of women's health care for a century and often the only available health care option for thousands of Texans – is no different from excluding "tax cheats, deadbeat parents or people suspected of serious abuse."

Target: Women & Families

Now the governor is on record claiming that the same state that ruthlessly slashed all health care funding last year will underwrite the WHP on its own. Even if he finds somewhere the $70 million necessary to carry the program through the biennium – a bitter surprise for those doctors or schoolteachers told by the Lege there's "just no money available" – without Planned Parenthood, there are simply not enough providers to answer the need. Perry lies about that too – claiming that Planned Parenthood represents "less than two percent of providers in the WHP." That's true only if you ignore the fact that a large percentage of WHP providers only accept one to three WHP patients a year.

In actual fact, according the most recent statistics (2010), Planned Parent­hood clinics – not abortion clinics and often the only providers in large regions of Texas – served 46% of the WHP clients and those numbers reportedly grew last year. It is shamefully dishonest of Perry to pretend he can wave a magic wand – perhaps a magic transvaginal ultrasound wand – and find both the money to pay for those services and the providers available and willing to accept all those additional patients, while they wait for state reimbursement.

Women's health care has become yet another casualty of the Republican presidential campaign, as the rhetorical battle over "abortion" and even "contraception" disguises an even broader insidious agenda rolled out here last year by Perry and the GOP-dominated Legislature and exacerbated by both the candidates and vicious clowns like Rush Limbaugh. The attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on women and families, on our shared responsibilities to one another – indeed, on the very idea of community.

We shouldn't let them get away with it.

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Gov. Rick Perry, Rick Perry, Women's Health Program, Planned Parenthood, Legislature

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