Houston Chronicle (09.27.12)
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center concluded that as a result of budget cuts last fiscal year, about 15 percent of Houston-area clinics that received state funds for family planning have closed and about 30 percent have shortened their hours. State family planning funds were cut in 2011 from $111.5 million to $37.9 million for a period of two years. This resulted in a cut in services to approximately 180,000 women in Texas. The number of clinics funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services dropped from 300 to 136 since funding was cut. The researchers commented that the purpose of the law was to defund Planned Parenthood in an attempt to limit access to abortion, although federal and state funding could not be used for abortion. The results of the funding cuts are limits that are now placed on women’s access to preventive reproductive health services and screenings.
Of 53 clinics that closed in Texas, seven were in the Houston area, and 13 clinics in Houston reduced their hours. None of the clinics operated by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast closed, but they have been requiring more patients to pay for services. Rochelle Tafolla, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, noted that the number of medical visits has declined and anxiety among patients has increased. She said that the cuts have had a devastating impact on low-income, uninsured women who need the preventative health care. Clinics have started charging higher fees or restricting access to some highly effective methods of birth control because of the funding cuts. Women are steered toward contraceptive pills and receive fewer packs of pills per visit.
Planned Parenthood clinics were not the only ones to lose funding. The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston had its family planning funds reduced from $4.4 million in 2011 to $1.6 million in 2012. This means that almost 10,000 fewer women will receive cancer and STD screening, physical exams, counseling, and contraceptives. Peggy Smith, head of the Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic, said that the state budget cuts took 25 percent of her clinic’s budget. The shortfall was covered by fundraising.
Rachel Bohannon, spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, stated that state money is being redirected to clinics that do not promote or refer to abortion services. She commented that women are better served in the long run. To illustrate, Bohannon used the example of a clinic that opened in partnership with a church and will offer the same services as Planned Parenthood minus abortions.
The study considers the consequences of the funding cuts if they result in higher costs to the state for births and unintended pregnancies. According to Kristine Hopkins, a University of Texas researcher and assistant professor of sociology who helped with the interviews for the research, “low-income women are not able to actualize their desires for their family size, and I believe that’s a basic human right.”
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2012; 367:1179–1181).