Texas is a women's health nightmare

Photo by Michael Stravato

Over the last few years, the women of Texas have been walking around as if they were wearing targets. The state Legislature has been taking aim at their health and rights over and over again. 

Since 2011, my home state has made devastating cuts to family planning and basic preventive health care over the objections not only of thousands of women and men in Texas but of their doctors. Adding insult to injury, the state banned Planned Parenthood — the largest provider of family planning services in the state — from the Texas Women’s Health Program. A small group of politicians bent on imposing their personal agenda on every Texan have created a health care catastrophe for women of all backgrounds, but especially those who are low income, rural and women of color. Women are suffering, and it’s time to put an end to this appalling situation.

In the Rio Grande Valley, where 90 percent of Planned Parenthood patients live at or below the federal poverty level, four of eight Planned Parenthood health centers have been forced to close. Across the state, more than 155,000 women now can’t get access to birth control or cancer screenings. Women in the Rio Grande Valley now must drive more than 300 miles round-trip to Corpus Christi for an abortion; come September, they’ll be forced to drive nearly 600 miles round-trip to San Antonio. Imagine what that trip entails: scraping together money for childcare, transportation and housing, not to mention taking time off work. 

We have real problems in Texas, and for women, access to affordable health care is a big one. But we elect leaders to fix these problems, not make them worse. Why are politicians spending their time making it harder for women to get health care? 

Texas used to boast of its comprehensive family planning services. Nearly 80 years ago, the state’s first birth control clinic was created in Dallas. From that point on, the number of reproductive health care centers increased dramatically, thanks to a partnership between state officials and Planned Parenthood. Texas’ leaders used to recognize that women’s ability to plan their family and protect their health allowed them to finish their education and achieve the American dream, and so the state brought health care to underserved rural communities including Bryan, Lufkin and Huntsville.  

What Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott don’t realize is that family planning is in this state’s roots, and that today’s Texas women will fight to protect it. They want the same opportunities as women everywhere else, and they have had enough of politicians who talk about personal freedom and then try to force their personal agenda on everyone else. They are mobilizing in a way they haven’t since my mother, Ann Richards, was governor. The day she announced her plans to run, she quoted former U.S. House Speaker and fellow straight-talking Texan Sam Rayburn: "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one."

Planned Parenthood is building, all across Texas, to make sure that Texas women continue to receive quality health care no matter what. Patients will find a full range of care at nearly 50 health centers, including abortions in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. Thanks to generous donors, Planned Parenthood recently reopened a health center in the Rio Grande Valley that had been forced to close, as well as a new health center in Fort Worth.

Last summer, thousands of Texans rallied, marched and spoke out to persuade legislators to vote with their conscience. But if we can’t change how they vote, we will have to change who they are — and elect new legislators who will move all Texans ahead and keep this state strong. The Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas have launched a new advocacy organization, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. This group now has a statewide PAC that will work closely with Planned Parenthood Votes — our national political committee — to shape the new electorate of Texas.  

Perry managed to strong-arm the new health restrictions by calling special sessions and holding votes in the middle of the night when he hoped no one was watching. I have bad news for him and good news for everyone else: Planned Parenthood is watching. And we are fighting for the women who count on us across Texas.   

Cecile Richards

President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America