“Brenda found several lumps in her breast in 2012. Every time she tried to get an appointment at a family planning clinic, she was told there were no available slots. The $50 fee was beyond her budget even if she could get one. She is now waiting to see if the lumps go away on their own.”
This is just one of many stories contained in a new report about the paucity of women’s health care in Texas, focusing on the travails of Latina women in the Rio Grande Valley. The report tracks the change in services since 2011, when Republicans in the state legislature cut the family planning budget by two-thirds. Reproductive rights in Texas have made headlines this year with the implementation of a law that has halted abortion services at one third of the state’s clinics, including both of the clinics in the Rio Grande Valley, and is ultimately expected to close 37 of the 42 abortion providers in the Lone Star state. But the stories compiled here, by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights, are a reminder that abortion is only one of many services that women need—and that as Republicans target family planning clinics in their siege against abortion, they shut down medical centers that provide this larger battery of women’s health care, too.
That battery includes mammograms and cancer screenings (for more on this topic, read Texan Kurt Eichenwald’s essay about his wife’s bout with breast cancer in Vanity Fair), and affordable OB/GYN care for chronic health problems—one interviewee in the report describes the uterine fibroids (noncancerous tumors) that she can’t afford to monitor—and STIs—another participant recounts living with Chlamydia for a year because she did not have the money for medication. Before the 2011 cuts, clinics offered annual exams to uninsured women for a subsidized rate of $10 to $25; today, those figures have shot up to between $60 and $200. And the same goes for birth control prices. With the help of state dollars, clinics used to prescribe a month of contraception at $12. Now, the pricetag is an unsubsidized $50, so it’s no surprise that, as the graphs below show, the majority of interviewees told researchers they used contraception before the funding cuts, but under ten percent continued to after. With both contraception and abortion out of limits for many women, Texas’s health commission has predicted 24,000 unplanned births between 2014 and 2015, which will cost taxpayers an estimated $273 million.
The changes to women’s health care in 2011 not only sliced a $111 million family planning budget down to $37.9 million, they also barred any state dollars from reaching Planned Parenthood, which the report notes had “served half of all women who received care through [the state Women’s Health Program in 2010],” because some of its clinics provide abortions. Since Texas’s discrimination against Planned Parenthood is out of keeping with the rules that govern Medicaid, the state knowingly forfeited $32.2 million in federal funds that year. The report focuses on the Rio Grande Valley because women there felt these cuts most deeply. In Texas at large, one in four people does not have insurance, including over 30 percent of women ages 15-44; on the Rio Grande Valley, the uninsured rate, at least before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, was a staggering 38 percent. All of the women interviewed were poor—Latinos are three times as likely as whites to live below the poverty line in Texas—and 19 were undocumented immigrants.
“The findings in this report do more than demonstrate failures of reproductive health policy,” the authors wrote. “They establish violations of women’s fundamental reproductive rights, including the rights to life and health, non-discrimination and equality, and freedom from ill treatment.” As Texas wages its war on abortion, birth control, pap smears, and life-saving cancer treatments will continue to be casualties.