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