In Texas, Defunding Planned Parenthood Harms Women’s Health

A pregnant woman getting an ultrasound.

In January of 2013, Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood clinics from their Medicaid program. In an effort justify the move, state legislators cited an undercover video recording that purportedly showed Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The video has since been discredited as a heavily-edited hoax designed to villainize Planned Parenthood.

In 2011, prior to being removed from Medicaid, family planning clinics in Texas had their grant money slashed by 66 percent statewide. As a result, 82 family planning clinics were closed, about one-third of which were affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Now, new data is revealing the effects that these funding cuts have had on women in Texas.

A group of sociologists at the University of Texas at Austin recently published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that analyzed the impact of the funding cuts to Planned Parenthood and found that they have been especially detrimental to low-income women in the Lone Star State.

The study found that in 2013, Planned Parenthood clinics served roughly 60 percent of the state’s low-income women of childbearing age. Without these clinics, women lost access to essential healthcare services such as mammograms and birth control.

Three months prior to the initial funding cuts, the researchers identified 1,042 pharmacy and medical claims for long-term birth control options such as IUDs, hormone injections and implants. Three months after the cuts, this figure had fallen by nearly 36 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the decrease in access to birth control was followed by an increase in pregnancies.

To get an accurate picture of changing contraception and childbirth rates, the researchers focused on women using injectable birth control options because these require regular visits to a healthcare provider and are only effective for about 3 months at a time. “These features of the method allowed us to observe changes in the rate of childbirth within 18 months after the claim, which would not be possible with LARC methods (which last longer) or oral contraceptive pills (which may be dispensed for a single month or up to 12 months per claim),” wrote the study’s authors.

Based on this data, the researchers found that in counties that had previously been served by Planned Parenthood clinics, the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid increased by 1.9 percentage points within 18 months of the initial claim. These 1.9 percentage points represent a relative increase of 27 percent from the study’s baseline statistics.

“It is likely that many of these pregnancies were unintended, since the rates of childbirth among these women increased in the counties that were affected by the exclusion and decreased in the rest of the state,” the research team added in the analysis of their findings.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is urging legislators in other states to use these findings as a cautionary tale. “This new research shows the devastating consequences for women when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood. Politicians have claimed time and time again that our patients can simply go to other health care providers – and tragically that’s not the case. Instead, women were left out in the cold,” Richards said in a statement.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the researchers’ findings is the fact that these funding cuts have the greatest negative impact on women living below the poverty line who have no other means by which to access reproductive health services. Furthermore, if more unwanted pregnancies are being covered by Medicaid, then the removal of Planned Parenthood from Texas’ Medicaid program has failed to accomplish the state’s apparent goal of saving government funds.

“Our data are observational and cannot prove causality. However, our analyses suggest that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood affiliates from the Texas Women’s Health Program had an adverse effect on low-income women in Texas by reducing the provision of highly effective methods of contraception, interrupting contraceptive continuation and increasing the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid,” said the authors of the study in their discussion of the data.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that politicians in Texas are making decisions that are harming the reproductive health of women in their state. Last year, a study conducted by researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) estimated that over 100,000 women in Texas have attempted to self-induce abortion. Without reliable access to healthcare facilities, low-income women in Texas have been forced to take drastic measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

We can only hope that research findings such as these will force politicians in Texas and in other states to provide women’s healthcare clinics with the funding they so desperately need to operate effectively.

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