Perry Defies Obama on Women’s Health Aid Under Abortion Ban

Friday, 09 Mar 2012 06:16 PM

 

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Governor Rick Perry pledged to replace almost $30 million in federal funds for a family- planning program for low-income women in Texas that may be cut off because of a state ban on aid to abortion providers.

“I will not allow these services to be denied by your administration’s political agenda and opposition to enacted Texas law,” Perry, a Republican, said yesterday in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, a Democrat. “The federal government should not be in the business of protecting abortion providers at the expense of the health of Texas women.”

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised Texas officials that a waiver for the Women’s Health Program won’t be extended, Perry said in the letter. A statement yesterday from Perry’s office said the cutoff would result from the state ban on abortion funding. The $33 million program provides services to more than 100,000 women.

Nicholas Papas, a White House spokesman, didn’t have an immediate comment on Perry’s letter.

The law blocking abortion providers or their affiliates from receiving state aid, including for family-planning services supported by the federal program, was passed in 2005. The prohibition on funding affiliate organizations wasn’t strictly enforced, with abortion provider Planned Parenthood setting up clinics that serve 44 percent of the women enrolled in the program, Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, said today by telephone.

Ordered Out

Tom Suehs, the health commission chief, effectively ordered Planned Parenthood affiliates out of the program last week. More than 2,500 other clinics that don’t provide abortion services are well positioned to serve women who now go to those that were cut off, Goodman said.

Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, plans to cut off funds for the program between May and September, the Associated Press reported on the Statesman.com website. She told the news service that she will let the state know of the decision today.

Perry’s willingness to replace federal funds to maintain care contrasts with a $73 million cut in aid to programs set up for low-income women under the state budget enacted last year, said Sarah Wheat, co-chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Austin. More than two dozen Texas clinics that provide women’s health services have closed as a result of reduced government support, she said.

Provider Shortage

“Most people in health care know there is a shortage of providers willing to serve low-income patients,” Wheat said. The federal government reimburses Planned Parenthood clinics $63, typically after about 45 days, for a “well woman” examination that includes tests for cancer, hypertension and other ills, she said.

Obama, who is seeking a second term, and Perry, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination to challenge the president in November, lack good political reasons to compromise, said Judith Baer, who teaches politics at Texas A&M University in College Station. Her books include studies of women’s rights.

“This is a clear case of federal preemption in that when federal and state law conflict, the federal law prevails,” said Baer, who volunteers at a Planned Parenthood clinic. “This is going to be very bad for poor women in Texas.”

State Not Preempted

In a letter last month to state Senator Robert Deuell, Attorney General Greg Abbott said his analysis of state and federal laws, as well as recent court rulings, shows that the state statute isn’t preempted by Medicaid rules under the so- called supremacy clause.

Perry angered women’s health activists last year by signing a bill that requires pregnant women to undergo a sonogram examination at least 24 hours before having an abortion. Doctors are required to offer the patient the chance to see the sonogram image and hear the fetal heartbeat.

Perry, who describes himself as pro-life, hasn’t said where he’ll get the money to replace the federal funds for the Women’s Health Program, Frazier said. By spending $30 million on the program, which includes providing contraceptives, the state will help avert unwanted births to Medicaid recipients, Goodman said.

Annual Medicaid spending in Texas is about $25 billion, Goodman said.

 

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