The antagonism of the state of Texas can't keep Austin's Planned Parenthood clinic down. Despite the Lege's ongoing assault on the reproductive health provider, the local clinic at East Seventh and Chicon is set to undergo a major renovation to better serve its patients.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas is investing $1.4 million in private donations to upgrade the Eastside clinic, open since 1973 in a space owned by the city of Austin. As of October, they've raised $1.35 million from local philanthropic groups such as the St. David's Foundation as well as individuals. The upgrades, expected to be completed within two years, will include larger exam rooms, an updated in-house pharmacy and lab, a new patient wait area, and a full exterior renovation.
"This location has been a mainstay in Austin for more than 40 years, and thousands of Austinites rely on Planned Parenthood for health care," said Mayor Steve Adler during a press conference at the clinic last week. "The city has long supported Planned Parenthood, and we are in favor of the efforts to maintain this operation and this service in our community. We oppose anything that seeks to undermine affordable health care for the residents of our city."
This renovation, the first large-scale improvement to the health center in more than 15 years, comes in the wake of the Texas Legislature's best efforts to thwart the longtime provider of women's health care. During the 2019 legislative session, anti-choice lawmakers passed Senate Bill 22, which bars local government entities from entering into "taxpayer resource transactions" with Planned Parenthood, a pointed attack on the Eastside clinic's lease agreement with the city. To head off the anticipated legislative action, the Austin City Council approved a 20-year lease extension in a 10-1 vote in late 2018; Adler described that lease agreement as one of the most "cost-effective and fiscally prudent" community investments made by the city. As SB 22 wound its way through the Lege, its vague language obscured how much damage might be left in its wake, and the clinic braced for possible closure, delaying all renovation plans. Ultimately, while the law, in effect since Sept. 1, has jeopardized health outreach and education partnerships between Planned Parenthood and communities all across Texas – including free condom distribution, HIV prevention education, and collaboration on sex education in school districts including Austin ISD – the long-term lease means the Eastside clinic has come out largely unscathed.
The clinic, which doesn't offer abortion but does provide birth control, cervical and breast cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, HIV testing and prevention, and gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender Texans, serves more than 5,000 residents a year. The majority of its patients are low-income, with 88% having incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty level. While the renovations take place, patients are advised to seek care at one of the three other Planned Parenthood centers in Austin, including a new, centrally located spot that just opened this week (Tuesday, Dec. 10) at 2911 Medical Arts St. #12.
While the clinic evaded the state's attacks this time around, as long as Texas politicians continue to prioritize blocking access to reproductive health care, the Eastside center and its partnership with the city of Austin will remain a perennial target. Planned Parenthood's Autumn Keiser tells us the growing clinic is standing firm in the face of that ongoing hostility. "As we have since we first opened our health center doors more than 80 years ago in Austin, regardless of any challenges politicians create, we'll continue to be here to provide essential health care and education, no matter what."
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