Commentary: Texas must stop messing with Planned Parenthood

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJune 29, 2012 

Texas needs to stop messing with Planned Parenthood.

To the self-serving politicians who use the organization as a target to help rally their conservative base I say: Leave it alone.

For the sake of women's health, cut it out.

The all-out assault on one of the oldest healthcare providers in the state borders on the ridiculous, and the vindictive nature of it is more than absurd.

The Texas Legislature last year drastically cut family planning funding. This year, at the urging of Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission passed a rule to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program -- an act that would cost the state about $40 million in federal funding.

It was a misguided stunt that could have a negative impact on thousands of poor women in Texas.

A federal district judge ruled that Texas didn't have the right to ban Planned Parenthood from the program, but a judge on the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Texas a stay of that ruling. A three-judge panel of that court, however, vacated the stay and heard arguments this month on whether a permanent injunction should be issued against the state.

Still the state is scheming to come up with other rules to bar the organization from participating in a program that is essential for about 130,000 women.

What's all the fuss about? Abortion, of course.

The attack on Planned Parenthood is because some of its clinics provide safe, legal abortions, which, by the way, are a tiny portion of what the organization does.

Let's look at Planned Parenthood of North Texas, for example, which operates 21 health centers across the region. Only two offer abortion care, said President and CEO Ken Lambrecht.

He said 97 percent of the organization's health services focus on preventive care, including prevention of sexually transmitted infections, breast and cervical cancer and unintended pregnancy through birth control.

If the critics would take a moment to think, they would understand that it is services like those administered by Planned Parenthood that greatly prevent the need for abortions. If you're for fewer abortions in this country, you ought to be supporting this group.

The politicians, who claim they are determined to save the government money, certainly ought to know that preventing unintended pregnancy is one of the best ways to do that.

"More than 56 percent of all pregnancies in Texas are paid for by Medicaid," Lambrecht said, costing Medicaid $2 billion a year in prenatal, delivery and the child's first-year of medical care.

About Perry's opposition, Lambrecht said, "The governor is proving he is more socially conservative than he is fiscally responsible."

The local group has come under fire for constructing a 15,000-square-foot building in the medical district in southwest Fort Worth. The $6.5 million healthcare facility is part of $21 million capital program that also will redevelop or renovate other centers in Fort Worth.

Some respected local pastors have complained that the new center is near the Edna Gladney adoption center and a school. Anti-abortion protesters have demonstrated against the plan.

People have the right to voice their opinions, but it makes sense that a healthcare center would locate in a medical district and close to an adoption center to which it makes referrals.

Planned Parenthood has been in Fort Worth for 75 years. It is not going away anytime soon, because its services are sorely needed. It provided care for more than 80,000 patients in North Texas last year. More than 10,000 North Texas teenagers and young adults participated in the organization's education programs, which teach them to take responsibility for their reproductive health and how to prevent teen pregnancies.

"For many patients, we're their only healthcare provider -- their entry into the healthcare system," Lambrecht said.

With or without funding from the state, Planned Parenthood will continue to grow and serve. In September, Planned Parenthood of North Texas will merge with the Central Texas (based in Waco) and the Texas Capital Region (Austin area) branches to form Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

This organization is on the move. I truly wish its critics would get out of the way.

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