Texas again playing politics with women's lives

Photo by Michael Stravato

Planned Parenthood is all about women’s health. Through dozens of health centers in Texas and hundreds of medical staff and volunteers, we prevent unintended pregnancy; we provide safe and legal abortion; and, yes, we help detect breast and cervical cancer.

On my way into the Capitol in Austin last legislative session, I saw a mother and her teenage son in orange T-shirts. When they saw us coming, the mom elbowed her son and said, "Show them your sign."

He held up his sign. It read, "I still have my mom thanks to cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood."

They’re not alone. Everywhere I go, I meet people young and old with stories like this. 

So how are members of the Texas Legislature going to explain to that young boy, or to women and families across the state, that they’ve just introduced a state budget that would block women from coming to Planned Parenthood for the lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings our health centers have provided through this program for the last 20 years?

This is politicians playing politics with women’s lives.

Of course, this isn’t the first time.

Over the last two legislative sessions, Texas lawmakers have repeatedly attacked women’s access to health care. They cut funds for birth control and preventive care and effectively ended the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, causing dozens of health centers to close. And they passed the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which have already forced several doctors to close their offices and, if all are allowed to take effect, would essentially wipe out access to safe abortion in much of Texas.

But at Planned Parenthood, we never give up. We are here to provide care, no matter what.

Last month, we cut the ribbon on a brand new health center in Dallas, and there are plans to open one in San Antonio soon. Over the last several months, our Patient Assistance Fund has helped dozens of Texans who live outside of major metropolitan areas pay for transportation and lodging costs as well as contraception to help plan and space future pregnancies and prevent unintended pregnancies. This work was possible because of the thousands of Planned Parenthood supporters across the state who have generously stepped up when the politicians in Austin turned their backs on women.

In the words of one of the staffers at Planned Parenthood in Houston: We can deal with anything. She was there managing the patients who flocked to her health center in October after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals let harsh abortion restrictions take effect and providers across the state were forced to cancel appointments. And she’ll be there for the next chapter in the fight to restore access to health care for women in Texas — because for Planned Parenthood staff, volunteers and supporters in the Lone Star State and across the country, nothing is more important than the patients who count on us.

That’s why dedicated doctors and nurses, in spite of legislative attacks and harassing protesters, provide care every day, doing extraordinary work under the most impossible circumstances. And here’s the good news: Thanks to that dedication, we’re finally seeing progress in this country. Teen pregnancy rates are at historic lows. As a result, women have more options than ever when it comes to getting an education, staying in school and pursuing a career. Amid growing recognition — in the U.S. and around the world — that it’s impossible to move forward if half the population is left behind, it’s unthinkable that the Texas Legislature is willing to turn back the clock on something as basic as access to cancer screenings. Texas can do better — and Texas women deserve better.

Women’s health has always been Planned Parenthood’s No. 1 priority in Texas. The state Legislature now wants to block access for the low-income women — 3,300 last year alone — who rely on us for cancer screenings, cutting off this lifeline to those who had nowhere else to turn. In the words of Dianne Dunn from Waco: “Planned Parenthood helped me when I could not get in anywhere else for breast cancer treatment — no one else would help me. I’m now cancer-free and am anticipating going back to work part time. I don’t know where I would be without Planned Parenthood.”

The bottom line: When it comes to ensuring access to essential, effective, lifesaving care for women in Texas, politicians have three options: Lead, follow or get out of the way. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood will continue to be there for women — just like we’ve been for the last 80 years.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Cecile Richards

President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America