Associated Press/Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell

Show me the money

Abortion | As Texas moves government healthcare funding away from Planned Parenthood, the abortion provider goes to court to keep its place at the trough

Issue: "Return to war?," May 5, 2012

HOUSTON-Fifteen years ago Cynthia Wenz of Houston had her third abortion. Two weeks later, with Wenz's uterus still enlarged, a technician advised that they repeat the procedure.

"We probably didn't get everything," the technician told her. Wenz shot back: "Wait a minute. What do you mean? Can I see what's in there?"

During the ultrasound procedure Wenz requested, technician after technician couldn't get a clear image. Wenz wondered aloud what was going on. A doctor replied that the baby was moving too fast up and down the birth canal. "Excuse me?" Wenz gasped. "What baby?"

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Wenz, then 29, had been carrying twins. She gave birth to a 31-week-old boy weighing 4.9 pounds. She named him Roman.

Emotionally devastated, Wenz came to The Source For Women, a Christian pro-life pregnancy resource center in Houston. Eight years after entering the facility as a client, Wenz became its president and chief executive officer.

She is also the mother of three boys. Roman is the oldest.

Last year The Source for Women served 2,800 low-income clients. But that number is expected nearly to double this year with the June opening of a clinic that will provide medical services beyond those found at most crisis pregnancy centers. Wenz says her organization plans to open seven clinics in the Houston area over the next three years. The expansion would allow the organization to serve 17,500 women annually in a county where an average of 24,000 abortions occur each year.

This expansion contradicts Planned Parenthood's claim that low-income women will have no place to go after Texas begins imposing on May 1 a state rule that prevents health centers affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the government-funded Women's Health Program (WHP).

Last spring, nine Texas-area Planned Parenthood organizations wrote a letter to lawmakers warning that cutting off their access to WHP funds would be "constitutionally abhorrent, fiscally irresponsible, and will leave tens of thousands of women without access to basic healthcare services." Despite the letter, Texas lawmakers voted last summer to start enforcing the rule in 2012.

Texas officials have identified 2,500 providers with 4,600 locations statewide that would remain eligible for the WHP funds. In addition, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission found that the cost per client in the program is 43 percent higher under Planned Parenthood clinics than at other qualified providers. That didn't stop the Texas Planned Parenthood groups from filing a federal lawsuit April 11 to block the pro-life rule that denies them WHP dollars.

The lawsuit is just the latest move in a growing abortion funding fight in Texas that has included blows delivered by the federal government on behalf of Planned Parenthood. On March 13, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would cut all federal funding for Texas' WHP in retribution for the state's ban on abortion providers.

Federal dollars paid for 90 percent of the program's $41 million cost last year. The program, which also exists in 29 other states, offers increased access to healthcare for about 130,000 Texas women who earned less than $20,000 a year or less than $41,000 for a family of four.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry responded to the Obama administration's funding cut by pledging to find ways to pay for the program using only state dollars. "I will not stand by and let this administration abandon these Texas women to advance its political agenda," Perry said.

On March 16, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott joined the fray. He filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the federal government's funding cut. In the suit, Abbott argued that the federal government seeks to "commandeer and coerce the states' lawmaking processes into awarding taxpayer subsidies to elective abortion providers." Federal law under the Social Security Act gives states the right and responsibility to establish criteria for Medicaid providers.

The move to block abortion providers from the WHP is part of a broader effort by Texas pro-life conservatives to go after the government funding streams backing abortion groups. State lawmakers successfully removed $64.3 million from the abortion industry in amendments passed last year for the state's current budget cycle. Twelve Planned Parenthood facilities in Texas closed within the last year. If Texas wins the WHP funding fight, then Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates stand to lose an additional $13 million in government funds.

"Abortion started in Texas and we want to end it here," said Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, speaking of the Roe v. Wade case that began in Dallas. "Planned Parenthood also knows that if they can take down Texas they can win any other fight." Graham hopes that the new restrictions will open up additional funding streams for pro-life healthcare providers that often could not compete against Planned Parenthood's infrastructure.


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