NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Responds to Troubling HHSC Testimony

During a House Public Health Committee hearing last week, HHSC associate commissioners Lesley French delivered sworn testimony to legislators, asserting that pregnant Texans can easily access free pregnancy tests at crisis pregnancy centers. She went on to laud the failing Healthy Texas Women program, which has been dramatically underperforming since losing Planned Parenthood as a health care provider. See below for our response to French’s testimony:

 

August 1, 2017

Lesley French

Associate Commissioner for Women’s Health Services Division

Texas Health and Human Services Commission

 

Dear Ms. French,

My name is Emily Martin, and I am the program director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. Our organization’s mission is to use education, training, organizing and public policy to support and protect all Texans’ freedom to make personal reproductive health decisions and to guarantee access to the full range of healthcare options, including timely and affordable access to abortion. As a public health professional and advocate for true reproductive justice, I would be remiss if I did not point out some glaring concerns with your sworn testimony on several maternal mortality bills at last week’s House Public Health Committee hearing.

You and others asserted at the hearing that our health care system requires pregnant Texans  wanting to access Medicaid to get a pregnancy test certified by a provider. However, this information is, in fact, incorrect. Federal regulation states that Texas may take a woman’s statement as verification of her pregnancy and that confirmation from a physician is unnecessary. Not only did you not know the requirements of the program, you utilized this misinformation to suggest that pregnant Texans “visit one of the 115 crisis pregnancy centers across the state” for pregnancy testing, which is wildly misleading and dishonest. If you knew anything about these centers, then you would know the services offered at them might be free but come with another price tag—inaccurate and outright fake medicine. We at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas have spent many years investigating these state-funded crisis pregnancy centers and I am personally appalled at their manipulative tactics. They often do not have regular medical staff but rely on volunteers who administer pregnancy tests and sonograms. Crisis pregnancy centers are so focused on keeping Texans from accessing abortion that they employ lies and delay tactics and often keep those wanting to continue their pregnancy from accessing prenatal care, which is crucial throughout pregnancy. For example, one center we visited advised a young woman that if she did not see a doctor before she was 12 weeks pregnant, she could continue to get free services at the CPC. Comments like yours legitimize these fake medical clinics and mislead Texans who are seeking actual health care services. Texans deserve the truth, especially from state health agency officials like yourself.

You then went on to advertise that the Healthy Texas Women program has a plethora of providers around the state that could offer certified pregnancy tests, including walk-in appointments. We made calls to providers listed on your website in fall 2016 and found that 58 out of the 220 called were not actually participating in Healthy Texas Women and 32 out of those 220 were not OB/GYNs or family planning specialists, but were instead radiologists, dental care specialists or anesthesia consultants. Even more egregious, another 16 of those were disconnected numbers, personal numbers or not health care providers at all, including one number that led to a feed store. Further, Healthy Texas Women is still dramatically underperforming since losing Planned Parenthood as a participating provider.

If you and your agency were truly invested in reducing Texas’ alarming maternal mortality rate, you would work with lawmakers to expand Medicaid and ensure that all Texans, no matter their zip code, had access to the full range of reproductive care, including family planning, abortion, prenatal and postpartum care. At the very least, you should be pushing the Legislature to expand pregnancy Medicaid to at least a year postpartum. You would insist that every qualified medical provider, including Planned Parenthood, participate in our state’s health care programs and that our tax dollars are funding real medicine, not unlicensed, religious-based crisis pregnancy centers.

 

Sincerely,

Emily Martin, M.P.H.

Program Director, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas

 

Cc: House Public Health Committee

Chair Four Price

Vice Chair J.D. Sheffield

Rep. Diana Arévalo

Rep. Cindy Burkett

Rep. Garnet Coleman

Rep. Nicole Collier

Rep. Philip Cortez

Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra

Rep. Stephanie Klick

Rep. Tom Oliverson

Rep. Bill Zedler

Legislators Take on State’s Maternal Mortality Crisis While Gov. Abbott Makes Empty Promises

This special session is all about attacking our rights and freedoms for the sake of Republican party primary election politics rather than finding solutions to any of a number of the issues our growing state faces. In fact, Gov. Greg Abbott promised to keep a list of all the lawmakers who supported his ideological war.

Texas Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek developed a ranking based on Abbott’s lists, and coming in among the proud zeros (hint: the lawmakers who put people over politics) is Rep. Shawn Thierry, whose Texas Moms Matter Act HB 11, passed the House unanimously this week.

Let’s not forget—It was Rep. Thierry who pushed Abbott to add maternal mortality to the special session call. If you were wondering where this falls on Abbott’s priorities, it came in last at item #20, behind hacking down heritage trees with abandon, despite Texas now having the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Yet he chose to champion a white female Republican’s bill, HB 10 by Rep. Cindy Burkett (you may remember Rep. Burkett from her sponsorship of SB 8, which outlaws the safest and most common second trimester abortion procedure, during the regular session) rather than the freshman representative who really gives a face to the issue.

The addition was a frustratingly small nod to the healthcare crisis that has been brewing in Texas since 2011, when the Legislature slashed programs and drastically reduced access to family planning. The maternal mortality task force has already issued two reports with recommendations that the Legislature largely failed to act on. Now rather than actually doing something, Gov. Abbott wants credit for its continuation.

Despite all this, we took solace in the fact that it was an opportunity to improve the work and focus of the task force and take concrete action towards saving mothers’ lives. It is an important step, and we urge lawmakers to implement lasting solutions to reducing maternal mortality in Texas and work with community organizations like The Afiya Center and Mama Sana in doing so.

Abbott’s focus on scoring political points rather than working to find solutions to public health challenges also erases the work of other legislators who have been working on the problem for years.  Rep. Armando Walle tried to establish this task force in 2011 and only succeeded in 2013. Rep. Thierry has worked tirelessly all year to direct the task force to study the real causes of the disproportionately high rate of maternal mortality among African American women, not just the racist causes other members of the Legislature might assume.

So while we appreciate that Gov. Abbott eventually realized the shame and tragedy of the maternal mortality rate in Texas, we’re not giving him any credit for only doing the right thing for women’s health after other members have worked on it for years. He continues to push anti-abortion bills in this same special session and further restrict local governments from partnering with organizations that provide medically accurate sex education and preventive reproductive health care just because they also offer access to abortion care. If Abbott truly cared about mothers, he wouldn’t be stripping us of our reproductive options. #soprolife

Don’t let Texas take away insurance coverage for abortion.

Last week, the State Affairs committee heard HB 214, which would ban private insurance plans from coverage abortions and disproportionately target low-income Texans.

HB 214 bans coverage of abortion under all health benefit plans, including private plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace. The bill has no exceptions in cases of rape.

CALL the members of the House Committee on State Affairs to voice your opposition. Feel free to use the script below —

Hi, my name is ______.
I’m calling to ask Rep. _____, who is a member of the House State Affairs Committee, to vote NO on HB 214. 
HB 214 will cut off access to abortion for low-income and rural Texans and communities of color. If passed, this bill will directly harm Texas families, who need their insurance plans to cover the full range of pregnancy related care, including abortion. 
 
[Insert your own story, if you like.]
 
I’m counting on the representative to do the right thing and respect pregnant Texans by voting NO on HB 214. 
 
Thank you for your time.
Texas House State Affairs Committee
  • Byron Cook (chair)       (512) 463-0730
  • Helen Giddings (vice-chair)       (512) 463-0953
  • Tom Craddick       (512) 463-0500
  • Jessica Farrar       (512) 463-0620
  • Charlie Geren       (512) 463-0610
  • Ryan Guillen       (512) 463-0416
  • Ken King       (512) 463-0736
  • John Kuempel       (512) 463-0602
  • Morgan Meyer       (512) 463-0367
  • René Oliveira       (512) 463-0640
  • Chris Paddie       (512) 463-0556
  • Eddie Rodriguez       (512) 463-0674
  • John T. Smithee       (512) 463-0702

Stop two anti-abortion bills from going on the House floor.

We expect that at least two anti-abortion bills, HB 214 and HB 14, will be heard before the full House floor soon. These bills are medically unnecessary and will directly harm Texas families who are already struggling to pay for healthcare costs.

HB 214 bans coverage of abortion under all health benefit plans, including private plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace. The bill has no exceptions in cases of rape.

HB 14 prohibits local government entities including cities and counties, hospital districts, and state agencies from partnering with health providers that also perform abortions or are affiliated with an abortion provider.

Now is the time to CALL the members on the House Calendars Committee and tell them to stop these medically unnecessary bills from going to the House floor where they will undoubtedly be made worse. Feel free to use the script below:

Hi, my name is ______.
I’m calling to ask Rep. _____, who is a member of the House Calendars Committee, to REJECT sending HB 214 and HB 14 to the full Texas House floor for debate and vote.  
Lawmakers should not be rewarded for targeting low income families and stigmatizing health care. HB 214 and HB 14 have no public health benefit and will cut off access to affordable health care for people across the state. If passed, these bills will further stigmatize abortion care and negatively impact clinics that do important work in their local communities. 
 
[Insert your own story, if you like.]
 
I’m counting on the representative to do the right thing and respect pregnant Texans by STOPPING HB 214 and HB 14 from going before the full House floor. 
 
Thank you for your time.

Texas House Calendars Committee:

  • Chair, Todd Hunter: (512) 463-0672
  • Vice Chair, Donna Howard: (512) 463-0631
  • Roberto Alonzo: (512) 463-0408
  • Trent Ashby: (512) 463-0508
  • Byron Cook: (512) 463-0730
  • Sarah Davis: (512) 463-0389
  • Charlie Geren: (512) 463-0610
  • Helen Giddings: (512) 463-0953
  • Kyle Kacal: (512) 463-0412
  • Ken King: (512) 463-0736
  • Linda Koop: (512) 463-0454
  • Poncho Nevárez: (512) 463-0566
  • Chris Paddie: (512) 463-0556
  • Dade Phelan: (512) 463-0706
  • Toni Rose: (512) 463-0664

STATEMENT: NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Stands With Abortion Providers In Their Lawsuit Against Senate Bill 8

For Release: 7-20-2017

Contact: [email protected]

Texas — On Thursday, a coalition of abortion providers, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas challenging a provision of Senate Bill 8 that bans an extremely safe and medically approved method of abortion. Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement —

“NARAL Pro-Choice Texas is proud to support Texas abortion providers and our partners at the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood in their fight against the cruel and restrictive SB 8. When politicians ban safe medical procedures, it does nothing to increase health and safety and is an outright attack on Texans’ access to abortion. SB 8 criminalizes physicians for practicing their best medical judgment and serves as a dangerous intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship.

This law is another in a long line of abortion restrictions pushed by Texas’ anti-choice leadership and legislators, whose true intent is to make abortion illegal in our state. This lawsuit comes as those same anti-abortion lawmakers push for even more dangerous restrictions during the special legislative session.

Yet again, Texas taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the irresponsible and shameful antics of anti-choice legislators. It is long past time for lawmakers to stop playing politics with Texans’ health care.”