Texas leads ef­fort to end Planned Par­ent­hood aid with fed­eral OK

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

With the ef­fort to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood stalled at the fed­eral level, Texas is spear­head­ing a plan that could “open the flood­gates” for states to strip tax­payer dol­lars from the abor­tion gi­ant one by one.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott, a Repub­li­can, sent a first-of-its-kind waiver to the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices on June 28 ask­ing the agency to ap­prove fed­eral fund­ing for a state-ad­min­is­tered fam­ily plan­ning pro­gram that ex­cludes abor­tion providers and their af­fil­i­ates from par­tic­i­pa­tion.

If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proves the re­quest, Texas Right to Life leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor John Seago said, it could set off a chain re­ac­tion of copy­cat pro­grams in red states across the na­tion.

“For the ma­jor­ity of states that want to pro­vide fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices with­out send­ing tax­payer dol­lars to the abor­tion in­dus­try, that’s a win-win so­lu­tion,” Mr. Seago said. “Repub­li­cans do want a strong net­work for women’s health ser­vices, and the prospect that you can do that while pro­tect­ing life is some­thing that I think a lot of states would jump on board with.”

CMS will take pub­lic com­ment un­til Aug. 4 be­fore de­cid­ing whether to ap­prove the re­quest.

Texas launched the Women’s Health Pro­gram, now called Healthy Texas Women, in 2007 with the goal of re­duc­ing Med­i­caid costs. Ini­tially a joint state-fed­eral ven­ture, the pro­gram al­lo­cated funds, most of which were fed­eral, to clin­ics that pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion, STI test­ing, can­cer screen­ings and other health care ser­vices to low-in­come women.

The pro­gram nom­i­nally banned the par­tic­i­pa­tion of clin­ics that “per­form or pro­mote elec­tive abor­tion” and their af­fil­i­ates, but the Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion didn’t try to en­force that pro­hi­bi­tion against Planned Par­ent­hood un­til 2011.

When Texas fi­nally sought to en­force the ban, Planned Par­ent­hood sued, ar­gu­ing that CMS rules bar the state from ex­clud­ing clin­ics just be­cause they per­form abor­tions. In a 2012 rul­ing, the 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals sided with Texas and up­held the ban.

But when the pro­gram came up for re­newal, CMS, un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, de­clined to pick it up.

In the en­su­ing years, Texas con­tin­ued to fund the Women’s Health Pro­gram with state dol­lars. But now it’s pe­ti­tion­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for fed­eral fund­ing that could amount to $35 mil­lion per year.

Kin­sey Hasst­edt, se­nior pol­icy man­ager at the pro-choice Guttmacher In­sti­tute, said CMS should re­ject the waiver.

She said the num­ber of pa­tients seen and con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices per­formed has gone down since the ban against Planned Par­ent­hood and other abor­tion providers went into ef­fect.

“The loss of Planned Par­ent­hood, the loss of these types of providers who re­ally fo­cus on re­pro­duc­tive health care and see a high vol­ume of clients ev­ery year and do it well, runs ab­so­lutely counter to the in­tent of the pro­gram,” Ms. Hasst­edt said. “We’ve seen in Texas that it re­ally hurts women’s abil­ity to ac­cess pub­licly funded con­tra­cep­tive care in that state.”

Mr. Seago said fed­eral fund­ing would only en­hance Texas’ abil­ity to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion and other health care ser­vices to low-in­come women.

“It is per­plex­ing that the abor­tion ad­vo­cates would be op­posed to this waiver, be­cause they are al­ways high­light­ing the need for more fund­ing of women’s health ser­vices,” he said. “It shows that their true pur­pose is re­ally try­ing to get tax­payer dol­lars. They want a piece of the pie, and so they don’t like women’s health pro­grams that don’t in­clude them get­ting tax­payer fund­ing.”

Mr. Seago said he is “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic” about the waiver’s chances.

It re­sem­bles the re­cent re­peal of an Obama-era reg­u­la­tion that pre­vented states from con­sid­er­ing whether a clinic per­forms abor­tions when al­lo­cat­ing Ti­tle X dol­lars, which are ear­marked for fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence cast the tiebreak­ing vote to ad­vance the re­peal leg­is­la­tion in the Se­nate in March, and Pres­i­dent Trump signed the bill into law in April.

“Signs like that give us con­fi­dence that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­ter­ested in this type of ap­proach,” Mr. Seago said.

Ms. Hasst­edt said the Texas waiver is just the lat­est in a “sus­tained and ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tack on women’s health and re­pro­duc­tive health.”

“Pol­i­cy­mak­ers op­posed to abor­tion ac­cess are try­ing to find all of these dif­fer­ent ways to limit funds go­ing to safety-net providers that of­fer abor­tion in ad­di­tion to other ser­vices,” she said. “Com­ing from a num­ber of state pol­i­cy­mak­ers and now the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress.”

Con­ser­va­tives in Congress have promised to re­di­rect Planned Par­ent­hood’s more than $500 mil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing to women’s health care clin­ics that do not per­form abor­tions.

That ef­fort has been side­tracked by de­bate over the health care bill to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare, of which the mea­sure to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood is a part.

With 32 state leg­is­la­tures, 33 gov­er­nor­ships and uni­fied gov­ern­ment in 25 states, Repub­li­cans may be grow­ing im­pa­tient for ac­tion on the fed­eral level.

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