by Rene Resendez
In Texas, a state where more than one-quarter of women are uninsured, the Women’s Health Program provides preventive health care, including birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings, to more than 130,000 low-income women each year. The federal government, which covers 90 percent of the cost of this program, has made clear to Texas — and to all 50 states — that a rule excluding a comprehensive women’s health care provider like Planned Parenthood restricts the rights of patients and will not be allowed in the Medicaid program. However, Governor Rick Perry and Texas lawmakers are moving forward to disallow Planned Parenthood from participating in the WHP, today.
On March 8, in the midst of a budget deficit, Gov. Perry said the state would reject the nine- to-one federal matching dollars and instead find money in the state budget to pay for the WHP, although it is not clear where the money will be found. Already in the past few months, budget cuts passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Perry cut the state’s family planning program by more than two-thirds, taking away health care from another 160,000 women a year.
Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of care within the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program. More than 40 percent of the women who received vital health care through the Texas Women’s Health Program rely on a Planned Parenthood health center for their preventive health care.
My name is Rene, and I am graduate student. I am also on the WHP. I've been a WHP patient for five years. My mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was my age, while pregnant with my sister -- this means I am at a 2-3 times increased risk for cervical cancer than other women. Because of my family history, I need to get a check-up every year.
My sister is a college student and also on the WHP. She needs contraception to keep her ovarian cysts under control. Because of the WHP and Planned Parenthood, we can focus on our studies instead of worrying about paying for contraception and cancer screenings.
Basic health insurance costs are out of reach for most college students since we work full- or part-time and keep up a full class load. Many of the women on the WHP are college students like myself, trying to better their lives with a higher education. We shouldn't have to choose between paying for a cancer screening and paying our bills while we're trying to further our education.
I know people stereotype people that use programs like the WHP, saying things like "They need to get a job and not rely on the government," but college students are some of the hardest working people I know. My generation was told by our parents and teachers that we need to go college to follow our dreams and to ensure we would be financially stable in adulthood. Here we are trying to do just that and people criticize us, somehow believing that it's possible to make enough money in college to pay all of our bills, focus on school, and still afford health insurance or medical care. That's just not realistic for college students who work entry-level jobs just at or above minimum wage.
It's important for lawmakers to realize that just having a job doesn't mean you can afford health insurance. Basic health insurance for most students I know is over $150 a month plus co-pays for visits and medications. I don't know many students who can afford that, pay their bills, and still get good grades.
When I heard about the possible demise of the Women's Health Program I was shocked to see the attacks on women's health hit so close to home. I searched online to try and see if there was a movement to help save this program. My search came up empty, so I decided start a petition myself, and spread it the best and fastest way I knew how, through email and social media. We have now gathered nearly 1,000 signatures from women and men that think Texan women deserve affordable access to basic women's healthcare.
Many times injustice happens because people think "What can one person do?" But I believe one person can make a difference. Sandra Fluke stood up for women and brought the issue to light that women have a right to representation in Congress in regards to their health care. She was an inspiration for me. I knew I had to try and make a difference, be it with 50 signatures or 5,000. Each one is a voice to try and save the WHP, a voice saying "I think Texan women deserve access to basic women's health care."
Women in Texas need to have a choice when it comes to their medical providers. If Planned Parenthood is cut from the plan, many women will be losing care from a place we’ve come to know and trust. (And the fact is that many parts of Texas lack comprehensive clinics, and where they do exist, they’re already overwhelmed. For many women, Planned Parenthood is their only place to access affordable quality care.)
Planned Parenthood discovered my mother’s abnormal Pap, arranged for further testing, and arranged for the removal of her cancerous cells. She went to them when she was pregnant to find out how far along she was and where to go for further prenatal care. Planned Parenthood was there for my mother, and now it’s there for my sister and me. I know I can rely on Planned Parenthood when it comes to staying on top of my increased risk for cervical cancer.
A few years ago, in the name of fighting cervical cancer, Gov. Perry signed an executive order mandating HPV vaccinations for Texan girls. In a September 2011 presidential debate, Perry stated that "Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die" – yet he is moving to end cervical cancer screenings covered by WHP for over 130,000 Texan women. We are asking him why. The women of Texas are waiting for your response, Rick. And no, we aren't talking about abortion – don't change the subject – we are talking about cancer. We are talking about women's lives.
And this is about women’s lives. Here are just a few of the comments left on my petition:
"I use[d] to go and get my annual check-ups at Planned Parenthood. I live in El Paso, TX and all of our clinics have been shut down due to the lack of funds. I am self-employed without any medical insurance. It has been so difficult for me to get reasonable medical care. This issue represents a problem not only for indigent women but for the female population in general. Something needs to be done."
"I'm a low income woman, I already have one son, I love him very much. I remember how hard it was to raise him without a job, and even though I have one now, it's just not enough. I need the PP services [such as pap smears] [provided by WHP]...I [also] want to live to a decent old age and I use BC to make sure I do not bring another child into this world until I AM READY."
"When I lost my job I used the women's health program. If it were not for this program I would not have been able to afford the follow up exams that I needed after I had an abnormal Pap smear."
And this last one is short but maybe the sweetest: "Dude, Where are my rights?"
Some of us may have thought that women were done fighting for their rights, but it's time to stand up again. I'll leave you with a quote by women's suffragist Alice Paul in which I've found strength. I would like to remind my fellow Texans that you have a right to a voice when it comes to women's lives and women's health: "There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it."
This article is posted under a Creative Commons license. It first appeared on RH Reality Check.
Image via Wikimedia Commons