Now Texas Wants its Women's Health Program to Ban Doctors from Talking about Abortion

As Governor Rick Perry vows not to take any of that filthy federal money to expand Medicaid in Texas, state lawmakers may also have to find another $39 million next year to keep the Medicaid Women's Health Program alive.

These days, the WHP has been going through some prolonged death throes. Texas is trying to kick Planned Parenthood's health clinics out of the program for being "abortion affiliates." The federal government is trying to tell the state just how illegal that is, given that the feds provide 90 percent of the funding for the $40 million program and federal Medicaid rules say that states can't block qualified providers from participating. (That argument is being fought right now -- with all the urgency of a drugged tortoise -- in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.)

Meanwhile, Perry and his Health and Human Services executive commissioner, Thomas Suehs, vowed to create a new, entirely Texas-funded WHP. And Health and Human Services and the Texas Attorney General's Office made it very clear in a letter to the 5th Circuit judges this week that in their WHP, doctors would be banned from even discussing the existence of abortion with their patients.

Originally, the idea was to try to prevent state money from going to healthcare providers who performed abortions or are "affiliated" with those who do. (The lawmakers behind the move chose to ignore the fact that abortions never actually happened with Medicaid money to begin with, except in rare cases of rape, incest or a woman's life being endangered.) That effort, which passed during the 2011 legislative session, was pretty obviously aimed at Planned Parenthood. The nonprofit has two branches, which are legally separate from one another: health clinics, which don't perform abortions, and surgical centers, which do.

But the letter, which contains the HHSC's proposed new rules, says something else entirely. Now, abortion "affiliates" wouldn't just banned in the new WHP -- so would "promoting" abortion in any way.

And what exactly does it mean to "promote" abortion? Providing a patient with a referral to a facility that performs abortions, referring to abortion as "within the continuum of family planning services," "furnishing or displaying" information to a patient that "publicizes or advertises an abortion service or provider," or displaying a "brand name" of a healthcare provider that performs abortions.

In other words, if a low-income woman becomes pregnant and decides to seek an abortion, her doctor can't discuss that decision with her or offer her any guidance. These are the same lawmakers who mandated a woman be forced to view and hear a sonogram described to her before an abortion can take place. Their logic then was that women deserve "informed consent."

Except, we guess, when the state decides that women don't need to be informed.

This new WHP will cost Texas taxpayers $39,132,223 in 2013, which will come out of the general fund. Again, this is a program that used to cost us just $1 for every $9 provided by the federal government.

And one more reminder for low-income women: Should you still decide to have an abortion, you will have to successfully find a facility on your own, pay for the procedure out of pocket, suffer through a description of a sonogram you may not need or want, and then, most likely, tell state Representative Bill Zedler all about it .

Attorney General's Letter With New HHSC Guidelines on Texas-Run WHP

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan