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

STATEMENT: Gov. Abbott Announces More Devastating Attacks on Abortion Access for Special Session

For Release: 6-6-2017

Contact: Sharmeen Aly, sharmeen@prochoicetexas.org

Austin, TX — Today, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special session to begin July 18 and laid out several pieces of anti-abortion legislation as his priorities, including a ban on private insurance coverage for abortion, burdensome reporting requirements for abortion providers and further regulations on how governments can contract with organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Gov. Abbott also signed into law SB 8, a cruel and shameful anti-abortion bill that severely restricts access to health care and effectively bans second trimester abortions.

Heather Busby, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement upon the announcement —

“It is disgusting and shameful that Gov. Abbott is wasting taxpayer dollars to force through even more regulations on our reproductive freedoms, especially after signing such a harmful bill in SB 8. And it is even more despicable that he is using the special session to systematically deny our human rights and civil liberties, wrenching away local control, attacking transgender people, forcing through school vouchers, and taking away our ability to unionize.

Restricting access to vital health care and targeting medical providers is cruel, hateful and dangerous. Gov. Abbott’s priorities for the special session jeopardize Texans’ health and safety and disproportionately impact low-income Texans, people of color and their families, and young people.

There is nothing ‘pro-life’ about denying health care to those who need it. Our reproductive rights are not political bargaining chips to be traded away.”

STATEMENT: Texas House Passes Cruel and Shameful Anti-Abortion Bill

For Release: 5-20-2017

Contact: Sharmeen Aly, sharmeen@prochoicetexas.org

AUSTIN, TX — Today, the Texas House passed on third reading Senate Bill 8, an omnibus bill that would require burial or cremation of embryonic and fetal tissue, ban the use of fetal tissue for research and ban an extremely safe and medically approved method of abortion. The bill also prohibits an already banned abortion procedure that’s no longer used in medical practice. Heather Busby, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement upon passage —

“During yesterday’s debate and with today’s final passage, we saw just how shameless anti-abortion legislators truly are and how far they’re willing to go to score political points by attacking people’s access to health care. Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate out of any developed country but instead of addressing that, lawmakers are busy wasting time and taxpayer dollars restricting access to abortion and imposing restrictions on health care facilities that have been ruled unconstitutional in federal court.

Banning safe abortion procedures does nothing to benefit public health and only serves as a dangerous intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship. Lawmakers admitted during the SB 8 debate that they haven’t consulted with any medical professionals but still chose to play doctor on the House floor. Politicians are not doctors and they have no place in the exam room.
SB 8 severely restricts access to abortion and shames and stigmatizes Texans who have abortions. This is a shameful measure by the Texas House.”

STATEMENT: Texas House Committee Hears HB 1113, a Ban on Private Insurance Coverage for Abortion

Texas House Committee Hears HB 1113, a Ban on Private Insurance Coverage for Abortion

For Release: 5-3-2017

Contact: Sharmeen Aly, sharmeen@prochoicetexas.org

Austin, TX — Today, the Texas House State Affairs Committee heard House Bill 1113, which would ban private insurance plans from covering abortion care. The bill also does not make exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies and applies to all health plans offered in Texas. Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, released the following statement:

“The Texas Legislature should not be in the business of banning people’s access to health care, including abortion, based on their income. HB 1113 threatens Texans’ health and safety and disproportionately impacts low-income Texans, people of color and their families, and young people.

HB 1113 jeopardizes the ability of private citizens to use their own money to buy health insurance that includes abortion coverage, making it so that Texans must purchase supplemental coverage instead. No one knows in advance what surgeries or medication they may need in the future, so why do we expect Texans to know if they will need an abortion? Putting restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion is dangerous and disregards that every person’s pregnancy is different. Pregnant Texans deserve access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, no matter what kind of insurance they have.

We stand against all bans that deny access to vital health care.”

Statement: More than 2,600 Texans Sign Petition to Expand Access to Reproductive Health Care

For Immediate Release

Contact: Sharmeen Aly, sharmeen@prochoicetexas.org

On Monday afternoon, reproductive rights activists delivered a petition with more than 2,600 signatures to House Speaker Joe Straus, demanding that the Texas Legislature stop restricting abortion access and instead prioritize expanding access to reproductive health care. Heather Busby, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, made the following statement —

“Time and time again, Texans have made it clear that they won’t stand for attacks on their reproductive rights. Since the Supreme Court struck down some of the state’s harshest abortion restrictions last summer, anti-choice legislators have ramped up their attacks on health care by introducing bills that would interfere in the doctor-patient relationship and force doctors to practice substandard medicine. Rather than playing politics with people’s private health care decisions, these legislators should listen to the majority of Texans who support access to safe, legal abortion. Our reproductive rights are not up for grabs and it’s time anti-choice politicians realized this.

The Texas Legislature should prioritize policies that improve the health and well-being of all Texans. We call on our legislators to pass measures that actually expand access to birth control and abortion care and help Texas families, such as closing the gender pay gap, fixing the broken foster care system and providing greater protections for breastfeeding parents.”