AUSTIN, TX -- Tuesday night, on the eve of implementation of a new Texas rule sabotaging the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, hundreds of Texans rallied to make clear their disappointment that once again Texas politics is interfering in the health care decisions of women.
More than one-quarter of Texas women are uninsured, and women in Texas have the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the U.S., yet Texas Governor Rick Perry is effectively sabotaging the entire Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP), risking the health and lives of more than 130,000 women who rely on the program for lifesaving screenings for breast and cervical cancer, birth control, screenings for diabetes and hypertension, well-woman exams and more.
Supporters gathered around a red, white and blue bus dubbed “The Women’s Health Express” as it rolled up to the Texas state Capitol. The Women’s Health Express arrives in Austin after touring Texas, hitting 16 cities in every corner of the state for the past nine days.
“Whether tonight in Austin, or earlier this week in Midland, or in Fort Worth in the pouring rain, women’s health supporters throughout the state are saying loud and clear that Governor Rick Perry needs to stop playing politics with women’s health and women’s lives,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and native Texan. “Women don’t come to Planned Parenthood health centers to make a political statement, they come because they need health care, and it’s time for Governor Perry to stop taking health care away from Texas women.”
With more than 70,000 signatures from men and women across the country, tonight Texans called on Governor Rick Perry to save the Medicaid Women’s Health Program and preserve the right of enrolled patients to choose their own health care provider. Currently, more than 40 percent of women enrolled in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program are cared for by Planned Parenthood health centers throughout Texas.
“Growing up deep in the heart of Texas, I learned at an early age the value of individual freedom. One of those freedoms is women having access to the health care they need and having the right to make personal, private decisions about what’s best for their own health,” said Jehmu Greene, national political commentator and social justice organizer. “While attacks on women’s health care around the country have been relentless and unprecedented, Governor Rick Perry’s ongoing work to close health centers in underserved communities is particularly vicious and heartless.”
Richards and Greene were joined by Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who declared today “Women’s Health Day” in Austin.
In addition, Carole Belver, Executive Director and Health Services Director of Community Action, a local Medicaid Women’s Health Program provider, reminded attendees that Governor Perry already slashed the family planning budget by more than two-thirds, which will take health care from another 160,000 women per year. These cuts also affect services including Pap tests, clinical breast exams, and birth control. Governor Perry simply can’t be trusted to restore women’s health funds, she said.
State Representative Dawnna Dukes, member of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, articulated the skepticism shared by Texas political commentators, editorial boards and government officials about Governor Perry’s fiscally questionable recent comments that he would reject the federal contribution to Medicaid Women’s Health Program – a contribution that covers 90 percent of the cost – and expend an additional $30 million of state funds to create a new program in order to exclude the largest single provider of women’s health care.
“Governor Perry wants us to pay more for less health care. Governor Perry is slashing education -- laying off 25,000 teachers, administrators and other school staff due to a ‘fiscal emergency’ – but suddenly says he can find ‘flexibility’ to score political points,” said Representative Dukes.
At the heart of the matter are women like Julisa McCoy, a college student from the Rio Grande Valley who currently relies on Planned Parenthood and the Medicaid Women’s Health Program to access preventive health care.
“In my county alone, four clinics were forced to shut down, several employees were laid off, and 15,000 women were displaced from their health care provider: Planned Parenthood,” said McCoy. “The Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program plays a vital role in the health and livelihoods of women in this state, as does Planned Parenthood. Governor Perry’s ideology has no place in my health care, or the health care of more than 130,000 other women like me in this state.”