Texas Reproductive Health Cuts Deny Women Access to Care

About a quarter of state-funded family-planning clinics in Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley closed after funding was cut in 2011, forcing women to forgo breast exams, Pap smears and contraception, according to a report by an advocacy group.

The spending reductions, which came before lawmakers approved new restrictions on abortion this year, have been especially deep in counties on the southeastern border with Mexico, one of the poorest regions in the U.S., according to the report today by the Center for Reproductive Rights and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

“Latinas in Texas are forced to live with lumps in their breasts, pain in their uterus and undiagnosed and untreated cancer,” Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the New York-based institute, said at a news briefing in Austin.

The legislature cut family-planning funds by about two-thirds to $37.9 million for the 2011-2013 budget, according to the report. Over the next two years the state plans to spend $143 million, expanding primary-care services to an additional 170,000 women.

Nine of 32 family-planning clinics in the Lower Rio Grande Valley closed, leaving fewer options for women, according to the report. Others scaled back hours or raised prices. Health concerns that aren’t diagnosed early can become more serious, resulting in the need for more costly care.

‘Distorted’ Picture

Abortion-rights supporters “are milking this issue and they’ve painted a very distorted picture of the situation facing low-income women,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, which opposes abortion. “There are more family-planning dollars available than in any time in the recent past.”

A government-run website, TexasWomensHealth.org, cites 66 doctors and other providers within 30 miles of Brownsville, Pojman said. Brownsville is a border city at the state’s southeast tip.

Those providers often are too expensive and inconvenient for many women, said Kristine Hopkins, an investigator with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, an affiliate of the University of Texas at Austin that studies state legislation.

Fiery Argument

Texas became a center of the abortion debate this year after Republicans passed a law requiring clinics to meet structural standards similar to those for hospitals, along with other restrictions.

Women’s clinics in at least five Texas cities stopped offering abortions after a U.S. appeals court on Oct. 31 temporarily let the state enforce a rule that requires doctors who perform the procedure to be able to admit patients to nearby hospitals.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, in a June 27 speech to anti-abortion activists, said, “The ideal world, of course, is a world without abortion.”

While abortion clinics have closed, Texas has other alternatives for women, including pregnancy resource centers, faith-based adoption agencies and thousands of Texas Women’s Health Program providers, said Josh Havens, a Perry spokesman.

The report by the Latina and Reproductive Rights groups was based on interviews with 188 women in four counties, where more than a third of the female population lives in poverty and more than 90 percent are Hispanic, U.S. Census Bureau figures show.

Test Choice

When she meets with Rio Grande Valley women to discuss health issues, fewer than a third have had Pap smears aimed at detecting cancer, said Paula Saldana, 36, a volunteer health-care educator from Brownsville who was at the news briefing.

“I had the privilege to decide how many children I would have and I want other women to have that same choice,” Saldana said in an interview.

Last year, Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission estimated that during 2014 and 2015, poor women would have almost 24,000 more babies as a result of the state funding cuts.

There were 66,098 abortions in Texas in 2012, an 8.6 percent decline from 2011, according to state figures.

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