Alexa Garcia-Ditta

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                    [post_content] => Update (Thursday, Feb. 23. 11:40 a.m.): Texas health officials apparently have chosen to end their participation in the Women’s Health Program, which pays for health screenings for tens of thousands of poor Texas women. Tom Suehs, who heads the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, formally ruled this morning that Planned Parenthood can’t receive funds from the Women’s Health Program. Federal officials have previously said that state officials couldn’t cut out specific providers. So the state’s decision to exclude Planned Parenthood because it’s an abortion provider could end the Women’s Health Program in Texas and deprive thousands of poor women of services such as Pap smears, cancer screenings and contraception.

Earlier: State health officials will soon have to decide which is more important: Providing health care to poor Texas women or punishing Planned Parenthood?

The answer to that question will determine the fate of the Women’s Health Program, which uses Medicaid money to provide Pap smears, birth control and cancer screenings to tens of thousands of low-income women in Texas each year.

The program has been the center of a yearlong political controversy. During the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature, conservative Republicans attempted to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving money from the Women’s Health Program. They also tried to prevent the lawmakers from renewing the program.

After barely surviving a tumultuous legislative session last year, the Women’s Health Program still wasn’t in the clear—Republican lawmakers had one more chance to remake the program. Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled in early 2011 that the state Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) could legally exclude certain providers. The AG opinion gave the state agency authority to craft new language that would keep Planned Parenthood health centers from providing Women’s Health Program services because of their affiliation with the organization’s abortion facilities. With this new rule in place, HHSC submitted an application to the federal government in October to renew the Women’s Health Program. But the feds rejected the application in early December because it violated the Social Security Act, according to the Texas Tribune. The feds won’t allow Texas to exclude Planned Parenthood.

“Texas is asking [the federal government] to allow [it] to discriminate against a qualified Medicaid provider for no other reason than we don't like them,” said Fran Hagerty, director of the Texas Women’s Health and Family Planning Association. “You can extrapolate that if the federal government let that happen, what’s to say that other states can’t discriminate?”

The federal government gave the Women’s Health Program a three-month extension so Texas can resubmit an application. That leaves the state with a choice: Allow Planned Parenthood to receive Women’s Health Program funds or lose the program entirely. Stephanie Goodman, spokesperson for HHSC, said the department “continuing to work with [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] on renewal.”

Hagerty said neither she nor any of the family planning providers her organization represents know what HHSC will do next. Will it submit a revised application that allows Planned Parenthood to provide services, or let the program—which has saved millions in unplanned pregnancy and Medicaid-funded birth costs—die altogether at the end of March?

Family planning clinics in Texas are already reeling from the massive budget cuts passed last session, and for some clinics, Women’s Health Program funding is essential for staying open. “There is so little money available that it's not enough to keep anybody thriving,” Hagerty said. “We’ll lose almost everybody [without the Women’s Health Program]. The situation couldn't be any more critical.”

The Women’s Health Program is operating like normal right now—Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics and health centers are providing services to women. But Hagerty doesn’t see this ending well.

“Where can these negotiations go? Texas is saying they won't back down or modify, fed government won't violate federal law,” she said. “All these years of work to create this program and get it off the ground…it doesn't matter now because it's gotten in the way of people's politics and agendas.”
                    [post_title] => Women's Health Program Appears Finished
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                    [post_content] => State health officials will soon have to decide which is more important: Providing health care to poor Texas women or punishing Planned Parenthood?

The answer to that question will determine the fate of the Women’s Health Program, which uses Medicaid money to provide Pap smears, birth control and cancer screenings to tens of thousands of low-income women in Texas each year.

The program has been the center of a yearlong political controversy. During the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature, conservative Republicans attempted to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving money from the Women’s Health Program. They also tried to prevent the lawmakers from renewing the program.

After barely surviving a tumultuous legislative session last year, the Women’s Health Program still wasn’t in the clear—Republican lawmakers had one more chance to remake the program. Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled in early 2011 that the state Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) could legally exclude certain providers. The AG opinion gave the state agency authority to craft new language that would keep Planned Parenthood health centers from providing Women’s Health Program services because of their affiliation with the organization’s abortion facilities. With this new rule in place, HHSC submitted an application to the federal government in October to renew the Women’s Health Program. But the feds rejected the application in early December because it violated the Social Security Act, according to the Texas Tribune. The feds won’t allow Texas to exclude Planned Parenthood.

“Texas is asking [the federal government] to allow [it] to discriminate against a qualified Medicaid provider for no other reason than we don't like them,” said Fran Hagerty, director of the Texas Women’s Health and Family Planning Association. “You can extrapolate that if the federal government let that happen, what’s to say that other states can’t discriminate?”

The federal government gave the Women’s Health Program a three-month extension so Texas can resubmit an application. That leaves the state with a choice: Allow Planned Parenthood to receive Women’s Health Program funds or lose the program entirely. Stephanie Goodman, spokesperson for HHSC, said the department “continuing to work with [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] on renewal.”

Hagerty said neither she nor any of the family planning providers her organization represents know what HHSC will do next. Will it submit a revised application that allows Planned Parenthood to provide services, or let the program—which has saved millions in unplanned pregnancy and Medicaid-funded birth costs—die altogether at the end of March?

Family planning clinics in Texas are already reeling from the massive budget cuts passed last session, and for some clinics, Women’s Health Program funding is essential for staying open. “There is so little money available that it's not enough to keep anybody thriving,” Hagerty said. “We’ll lose almost everybody [without the Women’s Health Program]. The situation couldn't be any more critical.”

The Women’s Health Program is operating like normal right now—Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics and health centers are providing services to women. But Hagerty doesn’t see this ending well.

“Where can these negotiations go? Texas is saying they won't back down or modify, fed government won't violate federal law,” she said. “All these years of work to create this program and get it off the ground…it doesn't matter now because it's gotten in the way of people's politics and agendas.”
                    [post_title] => Future of Women's Health Program Still in Doubt
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                    [post_content] => 

MOLLY logo

THE 2011 MOLLY PRIZE WINNERS

WINNER

Jeff SharletJeff Sharlet is the author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (Little, Brown), The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper), a national bestseller, and coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing The Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible. He’s a contributing editor of KillingTheBuddha.com and TheRevealer.org, published by the New York University Center for Religion and Media, at which Sharlet is a visiting research scholar.

In addition to Harper’s and Rolling Stone, Sharlet has written for Mother JonesNew YorkThe NationNew Statesman, The New Republic, Oxford American, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning NewsNerveSalonThe Chronicle of Higher EducationColumbia Journalism ReviewThe Baffler, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Forward, and Pakn Treger. He’s been a semi-regular guest on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and made appearances on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Hardball,” CNN, NPR, BBC, CBC, Air America, Radio France, The New York Times, Newsweek, and other media venues.

Jeff Sharlet received the MOLLY Prize for his article “Straight Man’s Burden”; published in Harper’s Magazine.

 

HONORABLE MENTION

Maureen DowdMaureen Dowd, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, became a columnist on The New York Times Op-Ed page in 1995 after having served as a correspondent in the paper's Washington bureau since 1986. She has covered four presidential campaigns and served as White House correspondent. She also wrote a column, "On Washington," for The New York Times Magazine.

Ms. Dowd joined The New York Times as a metropolitan reporter in 1983. She began her career in 1974 as an editorial assistant for The Washington Star, where she later became a sports columnist, metropolitan reporter and feature writer. When the Star closed in 1981, she went to Time magazine.

Born in Washington D.C., Ms. Dowd received a B.A. degree in English literature from Catholic University (Washington, D.C.) in 1973.

Maureen Dowd received an honorable mention for her series of articles “Eraser Duty for Bart?”; “Devil of a Scandal”; “The Church’s Judas Moment”; and “Worlds Without Women”; published in The New York Times.

 

Joshua KorsJoshua Kors is an investigative reporter for The Nation, where he covers military and veterans' issues. He is the winner of the National Magazine Award, George Polk Award, IRE Award, National Headliner Award, Casey Medal, Deadline Club Award, Mental Health Media Award and the Military Reporters and Editors Award.

Kors earned national attention this year for his work uncovering the veterans' benefits scandal. His three-part series showed how military doctors are purposely misdiagnosing soldiers wounded in Iraq in order to deny them medical care and disability pay. He continued his reporting with ABC News, collaborating with Bob Woodruff on "World News Tonight" and "Nightline" pieces covering the scandal. The "Nightline" report won the Peabody Award. In July 2007 Kors testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which convened to investigate his reporting. His testimony led to the creation of two new laws governing military discharges signed by President Bush in January and October 2008.

In September 2010 the House VA Committee convened again to examine Kors' reporting.  His testimony sparked a Pentagon investigation into the U.S. Army's torture of an American soldier.

Joshua Kors received an honorable mention for his article Disposable Soldiers, published in The Nation.
Also see his excellent accompanying video:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZd322Wyix8

[post_title] => Women's Health Program Has New Life [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => womens-health-program-has-new-life [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2012-11-02 15:43:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2012-11-02 15:43:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.texasobserver.org/womens-health-program-has-new-life/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5531 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2011-05-26 01:49:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2011-05-26 01:49:00 [post_content] =>

Almost immediately after a woman is raped, she must endure the invasive and often humiliating process through which evidence is collected. In most cases, an investigator swabs the inside of her vagina to collect DNA for a rape kit that will help identify her assailant. Imagine, then, if that evidence was never even examined, and police stash away the untested rape kit on a shelf, never to be thought about again.

Tens of thousands of women in Texas know exactly what that’s like—having undergone the rape kit collection process only to see the evidence go untested. In fact, the state estimates some 22,000 untested kits are collecting dust on shelves in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio law enforcement offices alone.

A bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, aims to address this significant backlog of untested rape kits. Senate Bill 1636, sponsored in the House by Rep. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, passed in both chambers and will soon head to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.

The bill requires agencies to take inventory of all untested rape kits in their offices by this coming October. If the agencies don’t have the funds or personnel to test the evidence themselves, they must send their kits to the Department of Public Safety for testing. Also, local law enforcement agencies must send new rape kits to crime labs within 30 days of collecting the evidence, and then the crime labs have to test the evidence within three months.

Originally, the bill came with an $11 million price tag to cover the cost of testing the kits, but it was eventually amended to require testing only if money is available to do so. It typically costs between $800 and $1000 to test one rape kit, and with tens of thousands sitting on shelves in just three major cities, that cost would add up quickly. While no additional state funds will be appropriated to cover the cost of testing, Davis said she’s confident that grants, donations and other resources will become available.

“Essentially though, the lack of resources to me is a pitiful excuse for not having tested the kits,” she said.

Witnesses testified in committee hearings this session that investigators don’t test rape kits when the victim knows her rapist because he’s already identified. However, advocates say testing the DNA anyway can help identify future rapists. The national arrest rate for rapists is pretty low—about 25 percent, according to FBI estimates. Testing old rape kits can also help free wrongfully convicted rapists.

While the bill passed in both chambers with bipartisan support, Davis said she got heat from law enforcement agencies throughout the process.

“I think we’re going to find that there are even a much larger number of untested kits than any of us can imagine,” Davis said. “I think [local law enforcement agencies] now know that they’re going to be held accountable for the number of kits that they’ve got on shelves, and they’re going to be answerable to their local communities for it.”

Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association of Sexual Assault, calls Davis’ bill a step in the right direction for sexual assault and domestic violence victims. It’s also a plus for the state’s criminal justice system.

“Rape victims who go through this exam shortly after being sexually assaulted, they will have that experience validated,” she said. “They’re doing their job – they’re going to the hospital and helping with evidence. Now the state needs to do its job by testing the evidence that’s coming off of their bodies.”

[post_title] => Bill Addresses Backlog of Untested Rape Kits [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => bill-addresses-backlog-of-untested-rape-kits [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2012-11-02 15:43:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2012-11-02 15:43:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.texasobserver.org/bill-addresses-backlog-of-untested-rape-kits/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5523 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2011-05-25 19:15:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2011-05-25 19:15:00 [post_content] => Updated May 26, 9:55 a.m. The budget conference committee approved its report this morning on a 9-1 vote, which includes the nearly $62 million in family planning cuts passed by the House in March. With looming budget cuts to the state's family-planning programs, advocates are preparing for a "tsunami" of consequences. The final version of the budget is expected to slice two-thirds of the state's family-planning funding. Those cuts will deprive hundreds of thousands of women of birth control and basic healthcare services. The state will endure more unplanned pregnancies that taxpayers will be obligated to cover. Abortions will likely increase. And the lack of funding will force providers to close their clinics. "There's not going to be a ripple effect, it's going to be a tsunami effect," said Fran Hagerty, executive director of the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. "It's going to be big and it's going to be fast. We're going to see the effects of this this time next year." Tomorrow will be a big day in the family-planning saga this session. Budget conference committee members are expected to approve their final recommendations, which include a nearly $62 million cut to the state’s family planning budget, on top of the 11-percent cut introduced in January. These additional $62 million in cuts are part of the House version of the budget, passed in April. The Senate version appropriated much more money—$99.6 million to family planning—but the conference committee has opted to go with the House's miserly proposal. Two weeks ago, the Observer reported that if family planning cuts were passed at the House’s barebones funding level, more than 284,000 low-income women would go without contraceptive and basic reproductive health services. That could lead to tens of thousands of more births covered by the state Medicaid program and ultimately cost the state $100 million. Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, who sits on the budget conference committee, said he wanted to restore some family planning funding in the conference committee process. But some House members indicated to him that if the House cuts weren’t maintained in the final committee report, they would vote against the entire budget. “I’m a strong supporter of family planning services, and I do believe family planning has a significant impact on unplanned pregnancies and abortions,” he said. “But a lot of people don’t share that belief.” Experts and advocates have feared all session that these drastic reductions will lead to fewer providers, fewer staff to treat women and will ultimately force clinics to close. Also, women will have more unplanned pregnancies, and abortions will likely increase. It looks like their fears will be coming true. Conservative lawmakers and pro-life groups have made it their personal mission to defund Planned Parenthood this session, and in doing so they’ve jeopardized non-Planned Parenthood clinics that serve poor women. In fact, early this week the Guttmacher Institute, a national research organization that publishes women’s reproductive health data, released a study that may as well have been directed at Texas. The study found that while abortions are decreasing nationally, they increased among low-income women between 2000 and 2008. Abortions among poor women now account for almost half of all the abortions performed nationally and increased by 18 percent in the last eight years. In a press release, study author Rachel Jones could have been speaking directly to Texas legislators. “That abortion is becoming increasingly concentrated among poor women suggests the need for better contraceptive access and family planning counseling. It certainly appears these women are being underserved.” Poor women in Texas are already underserved when it comes to birth control. Currently, the state’s family planning program is already under-utilized and serves just 19 percent of the 1.1 million eligible women. Right now, the Department of State Health Services provides services to almost 300,000 low-income women. So, with an estimated 284,000 about to lose their birth control and reproductive healthcare, the looming cuts basically obliterate the entire family planning program. [post_title] => Budget Effectively Guts Family Planning [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => budget-committee-effectively-gutting-family-planning [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2013-08-09 12:32:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2013-08-09 17:32:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.texasobserver.org/budget-committee-effectively-gutting-family-planning/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5930 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2012-02-21 23:01:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2012-02-21 23:01:00 [post_content] => Update (Thursday, Feb. 23. 11:40 a.m.): Texas health officials apparently have chosen to end their participation in the Women’s Health Program, which pays for health screenings for tens of thousands of poor Texas women. Tom Suehs, who heads the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, formally ruled this morning that Planned Parenthood can’t receive funds from the Women’s Health Program. Federal officials have previously said that state officials couldn’t cut out specific providers. So the state’s decision to exclude Planned Parenthood because it’s an abortion provider could end the Women’s Health Program in Texas and deprive thousands of poor women of services such as Pap smears, cancer screenings and contraception. Earlier: State health officials will soon have to decide which is more important: Providing health care to poor Texas women or punishing Planned Parenthood? The answer to that question will determine the fate of the Women’s Health Program, which uses Medicaid money to provide Pap smears, birth control and cancer screenings to tens of thousands of low-income women in Texas each year. The program has been the center of a yearlong political controversy. During the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature, conservative Republicans attempted to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving money from the Women’s Health Program. They also tried to prevent the lawmakers from renewing the program. After barely surviving a tumultuous legislative session last year, the Women’s Health Program still wasn’t in the clear—Republican lawmakers had one more chance to remake the program. Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled in early 2011 that the state Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) could legally exclude certain providers. The AG opinion gave the state agency authority to craft new language that would keep Planned Parenthood health centers from providing Women’s Health Program services because of their affiliation with the organization’s abortion facilities. With this new rule in place, HHSC submitted an application to the federal government in October to renew the Women’s Health Program. But the feds rejected the application in early December because it violated the Social Security Act, according to the Texas Tribune. The feds won’t allow Texas to exclude Planned Parenthood. “Texas is asking [the federal government] to allow [it] to discriminate against a qualified Medicaid provider for no other reason than we don't like them,” said Fran Hagerty, director of the Texas Women’s Health and Family Planning Association. “You can extrapolate that if the federal government let that happen, what’s to say that other states can’t discriminate?” The federal government gave the Women’s Health Program a three-month extension so Texas can resubmit an application. That leaves the state with a choice: Allow Planned Parenthood to receive Women’s Health Program funds or lose the program entirely. Stephanie Goodman, spokesperson for HHSC, said the department “continuing to work with [the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] on renewal.” Hagerty said neither she nor any of the family planning providers her organization represents know what HHSC will do next. Will it submit a revised application that allows Planned Parenthood to provide services, or let the program—which has saved millions in unplanned pregnancy and Medicaid-funded birth costs—die altogether at the end of March? Family planning clinics in Texas are already reeling from the massive budget cuts passed last session, and for some clinics, Women’s Health Program funding is essential for staying open. “There is so little money available that it's not enough to keep anybody thriving,” Hagerty said. “We’ll lose almost everybody [without the Women’s Health Program]. The situation couldn't be any more critical.” The Women’s Health Program is operating like normal right now—Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics and health centers are providing services to women. But Hagerty doesn’t see this ending well. “Where can these negotiations go? Texas is saying they won't back down or modify, fed government won't violate federal law,” she said. “All these years of work to create this program and get it off the ground…it doesn't matter now because it's gotten in the way of people's politics and agendas.” [post_title] => Women's Health Program Appears Finished [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => future-of-womens-health-program-still-in-doubt-2 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2012-11-02 15:28:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2012-11-02 15:28:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.texasobserver.org/future-of-womens-health-program-still-in-doubt-2/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
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