With Zika Threat Looming, State Media Ask Why Lawmakers Are Giving A Public Health Contract To An Anti-Choice Group That “Is Not A Healthcare Provider”
Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN
Months after Texas’ restrictive anti-abortion law was overruled at the Supreme Court, state lawmakers allocated state funding for reproductive health to an anti-choice group, playing into a dangerous right-wing media myth about the role of Planned Parenthood in low-income communities.
On August 11 anti-choice state officials awarded the second largest contract in the state’s restructured reproductive health care program -- totaling $1.6 million -- to the anti-abortion organization The Heidi Group, which is “not a healthcare provider.”
This latest development in Texas lawmakers’ attack on reproductive rights once again utilizes right-wing media talking points to vilify Planned Parenthood and ignore the health care needs of low-income communities.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2, finding that its restrictions on abortion providers imposed an “undue burden on abortion access.” In recent years, HB 2 was one of several measures state lawmakers took to limit the reach of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
In 2012, the state dismantled its reproductive health safety net program in order to exclude Planned Parenthood from the network of subsidized providers. In 2015, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott pushed to defund Planned Parenthood in Texas, touting the move as “another step in providing greater access to safe healthcare for women while protecting our most vulnerable -- the unborn.” Lawmakers similarly argued that by defunding Planned Parenthood they “instead funneled the funds to worthwhile programs.”
However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the impact of Texas’ decision to remove Planned Parenthood from the state’s reproductive health safety net program. The findings showed that the exclusion of Planned Parenthood caused a decrease in the use of long-acting contraceptives that corresponded with an increase in child births by Medicaid-funded patients.
Beyond contraception and abortion care needs, when Texas cut funding for Planned Parenthood patients also lost access to affordable HIV testing. In June, the Texas Observer found that in Harris County, TX -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- the county’s health department hadn’t conducted a single HIV test in the first six months of 2016, since the county ended its decades-long contract with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing and prevention.
Efforts to remove Planned Parenthood from health care funding eligibility have only increased since the release of deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Although CMP’s work has been consistently discredited, anti-choice legislators have frequently repeated right-wing media misinformation about Planned Parenthood as part of an ongoing mission to defund the organization.
Texas’ latest decision to allocate a sizeable contract for reproductive health care to an organization founded and run by an anti-choice activist, with little experience providing the contracted medical services, represents a continuation of a dangerous pattern of misinformation about Planned Parenthood. By ignoring Planned Parenthood’s role in providing health care to low-income patients, this pattern has a demonstrably detrimental impact on those who need access to affordable reproductive care most.
The Texas Observer’s Andrea Grimes demonstrated the issue with awarding a public health contract to an organization with little health care experience. She noted that The Heidi Group primarily runs a series of crisis pregnancy centers -- organizations that are notorious for misleading women about abortion and reproductive health. The anti-choice group, which has said it “sets women free from abortion,” is also headed by Carol Everett, an anti-choice activist known for making dubious, fringe medical claims related to abortion:
Everett made headlines in early August following her testimony at a Texas Department of State Health Services meeting on new rules about fetal tissue disposal in Texas. There, she asserted that currently allowable means of fetal tissue disposal could result in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections being released into public water supplies, which she later repeated to an Austin Fox affiliate. Her concerns are not echoed by any major medical or public health groups.
Executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Heather Busby further explained the concerning medical background of The Heidi Group in a statement to the Texas Tribune: "It’s very inappropriate that the state would contract with an organization that has never performed the services required by the contract … The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization; it is not a healthcare provider.”
Busby also told the Austin American-Statesman that Texas officials’ selection of The Heidi Group was “especially troubling, given that the organization is run by a person who is so terribly misinformed about public health.”
Texas’ award of the contract comes at a time when the Zika virus -- which impacts pregnant persons and developing fetuses -- has been linked to one death in Harris County. Given that Texas already lacks a sufficient number of OB-GYNs necessary to address Zika’s spread, further curtailing access to contraception and abortion care by awarding contracts to anti-choice groups could additionally burden Texas communities.
As the chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Sarah Wheat explained:
The looming threat of Zika makes the need for this care more urgent than ever. Instead of helping women get the care they need at proven, qualified providers they know and trust, Texas is funneling hard-earned tax dollars in support of their anti-abortion agenda.