Pro-life groups in Texas are in an awkward position these days, as the Medicaid Women's Health Program fights for its life. On one hand, they celebrate anything that they perceive as a blow to Planned Parenthood (which Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas Executive Director Karen Garnett once memorably described at a rally we wrote about as "a gaping wound in the side of Christ.") But they also insist that they care just as much about the health of women as they do about the well-being of their fetuses. That would make it rather unseemly to celebrate the likely shutdown of a program that treats hundreds of thousands of low-income women.
As we can't seem to shut up about lately, Texas recently made a new rule for WHP providers that was aimed at kicking Planned Parenthood out of the program altogether. That rule, which the federal government says violates the Social Security Act, goes into effect today, March 14. In turn that led the feds to pull their funding, some $35 million, from the program. Even before they made that announcement, Governor Rick Perry was pledging last week to somehow keep the program going -- without Planned Parenthood (which before today saw about 40 percent of WHP clients) and without federal money (which paid for 90 percent of the program).
The two main pro-life groups in the state, Texas Right To Life and Texas Alliance for Life, have both chosen to place the blame for this whole mess squarely on the federal government and President Obama, as have Perry and the state's executive health and human services commissioner, Tom Suehs. Texas Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham released a brief statement in late February saying in part, "Low-income women are being robbed of vital services due to President Obama's relentless support of unrestricted abortion." In a phone conversation with Unfair Park yesterday, Texas Alliance For Life executive director Joe Pojman went much further.
"The blame lies with the Obama administration," he told us. "I think they've illegally canceled this program. They're bound by federal law, and I think they're acting inconsistent with federal law. ... Clearly, the Obama administration is killing this program, which Texas wants to continue."
Pojman dismissed Planned Parenthood as "abortion providers," and insisted that their exclusion from the program makes no difference. "We think the state of Texas has taken a position to promote childbirth and not promote abortion," he said. "Planned Parenthood is certainly promoting abortion as a method of birth control. People think that may be a good or a bad thing. We don't think that's consistent with the state's policy."
Pojman also called Planned Parenthood's services "very limited healthcare," adding, "It only provides birth control, some STD testing, some STD treatments, breast and cervical cancer screenings." (That's not accurate. As the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas points out, Planned Parenthood and other family planning providers also provide annual exams, infertility counseling and treatment, screenings for diabetes, anemia and hypertension and treatment for menopause, among other things. Together, these services constitute the entire purpose of the Women's Healthcare Program. For many low-income women, they're also the only healthcare they regularly receive.)
Pojman also said he just can't understand why more people aren't patting Perry on the back more thoroughly for pledging to continue the WHP. "It surprises me I'm not seeing a clamoring of praise for Governor Perry for wanting to keep this program going," he said. He added that in a "huge, multibillion dollar state budget" it would be fairly simple to find $35 million in funds to replace what the federal government will no longer give the state.
"Planned Parenthood is losing money," Pojman said. "But the program will continue. In a year, if the funding is there and the providers are there, will there be praise for Governor Perry?"