They called on lawmakers to pass House Bill 2819, authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, which would restore the Medicaid Women's Health Program to the way it was before last session, when Republican lawmakers implemented a ban on clinics "affiliated" with abortion providers. That prompted the federal government to stanch the flow of funding to the program -- some $30 million annually -- financing now covered by state dollars alone.
Republican lawmakers say it was the right call to ensure that no taxpayer dollars in Texas were being spent on clinics that either performed or endorsed abortions.
But state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said at the rally that the affiliate ban amounted to an "ideological attack" on Planned Parenthood. "We are here to demonstrate our love for each other, our understanding and our compassion for people," she said, "and to ask that our legislators understand the very real human impacts that their decisions have on the lives of women and their families."
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told the crowd, "We're in a struggle right now to try to stand with qualified providers who have been the basis of our safety net in our system here in Texas."
She added that the discontinuation of state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics had put the burden of health care costs on "the backs of women who can least afford it."
"This is about saving the lives of the hundreds of thousands of women who use Planned Parenthood," said Stephanie March, an activist and actress known for her role on the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. "That is a lot of women. That is a lot of voters."
The affiliate ban has halted the flow of Women's Health Program funding to 50 Planned Parenthood clinics that participated in the former Medicaid program.
To test the capacity of the Women's Health Program without the participation of Planned Parenthood, the Health and Human Services Commission conducted a survey of other providers in areas served by Planned Parenthood clinics. They found just two areas, San Angelo and Corsicana, that would not have enough providers to serve enrolled program patients without Planned Parenthood. An interactive map of those survey results can be found here.
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