In Utero News: Sonogram Bill Has Been Blocked, But Texas Women Are Still Kind of Screwed

You want the good news or the bad news? Oh, hell, let me just give you the good stuff first: The enforcement of proposed legislation that would have required Texas women to look at a sonogram, have it described to them "in detail" by their doctor and listen to a fetal heartbeat (whether they wanted any of that or not) before undergoing an abortion was  blocked yesterday in Austin by Judge Sam Sparks. Rick Perry issued a statement shortly thereafter: He is not pleased. The order issued by the court prevented the law from going into effect tomorrow, on grounds that several portions of it are "unconstitutionally vague." This is excellent news for those of you who may not wish to undergo forced lecturing alongside your legal medical procedure; neither doctors nor patients will suffer penalties for not complying.

We mentioned before that the bill was opposed by a class action lawsuit organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights and backed by several Texas-based lawyers. In ruling in the CRR's favor, Judge Sparks noted that he was especially disturbed by the provision that women could avoid the fetal heartbeat requirement only if they signed a statement saying they were victims of rape or incest. Overall, as he stated in his ruling, he found it "difficult to avoid the troubling conclusion that the Texas Legislature either wants to permanently brand women who choose to get abortions, or views these certifications as potential evidence to be used against physicians and women."

Now the bad news, or, rather, a reminder thereof. Government funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics has been cut so far that it's almost nonexistent, with continuing devastating consequences. Let's review, shall we?

On Monday we told you about pro-life groups in Sherman celebrating the closing of the Planned Parenthood there with cake and weeping. Yesterday we spoke with Holly Morgan, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of North Texas. She reiterated that the Sherman location closed due to lack of business in that area. "We have three locations that we're closing as a result of a bigger study we've done of where our patients live and work," she said, which are Sherman, Waxahachie and South Dallas. " Long-term [Sherman] unfortunately just wasn't sustainable."

But several of the anti-abortion celebrators linked the Sherman clinic's closing to something else they're really excited about, this mythical event they have repeatedly referred to as the "defunding of Planned Parenthood." It may shock you to learn that some of their facts relating to this defunding are not entirely accurate. There have been widespread family planning funding cuts in Texas at the state level, yes, and they have already been disastrous for women's health, and for preventative healthcare for lower-income people in general. But they're not limited to Planned Parenthood.

To recap: in this last legislative session, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) had around $73 million cut from its family planning budget for the next two years. That's two-thirds of the total funding they had to give out to the more than 300 sites across Texas which provide family planning services. Planned Parenthood is the second largest recipient of those funds, but other Dallas-area clinics get federal money as well, including ones at UT Southwestern, Baylor and Parkland.

In addition, the Medicaid Women's Health Program will be banned from contracting with health care clinics that are "affiliated" with abortion providers. The definition of "affiliate" was just released Tuesday, but it's still not all that precise. Planned Parenthood's lawyers are trying to figure out the effect it will have on their clinics. (Just a guess: It's probably not good.) Under the new regulations, Planned Parenthood and other entities that "only" provide family planning are also put last on the list of entities that DSHS will fund, after city- or state-run clinics and private clinics.

"Well, I'm not planning to have an abortion anyway, so why exactly do I give a shit if these places get less money?" you may be asking yourself, or less foul-mouthed words that effect. For starters, the term "family planning" doesn't actually mean abortion, which already can't be funded by state money. Instead, it covers a bunch of other services, including routine check-ups and follow-up visits, birth control, emergency contraception, lab tests for HIV, anemia, cervical cancer and diabetes, nutritional counseling, pregnancy tests and medication for STDs and urinary tract infections, among other things. The DSHS expects that around 180,000 women will lose access to birth control and cancer screenings as a result of these cuts, and the Legislative Budget Board thinks they could lead to around 20,500 additional births each year.

So, all the other clinics are screwed. But that doesn't mean that Planned Parenthood hasn't also been deeply impacted by the cuts. Several Planned Parenthood locations are going to have to close entirely, including Terrell, Arlington North, Gainvesville, Mesquite and Plano. The rest are converting to a private pay system. All of them.

"We really are trying to set up some specific patient subsidy funds," to help cover the costs for people who can't afford to pay out of pocket, Morgan said. "We're going to be raising private money to put funds to replace the funding that used to come from the state."

With all these family planning entities losing money, Morgan said, "the patients just aren't going to have anywhere to go. It's really worrying. It's really stressful to think about. The lawmakers who did this were really just cutting off their nose to spite their face.To cut $66 million for family planning care can only create more health problems and more unwanted pregnancies. They say their target is abortion and abortion providers, but this is just about denying health care to poor people."

So basically: if a woman finds herself in need of an abortion, she won't be subjected to unnecessary traumatizing bullshit during the process. (Unless of course you call being yelled at or forcibly prayed at by protesters waving signs featuring Photoshopped pictures of dismembered fetuses outside the clinic "traumatizing.") But women who still need low-cost birth control, or check-ups, or a damn diabetes test? They're still screwed. 

Think we can fit all that on top of a cake? Not that we much feel like celebrating.

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