Will Misinformation Endanger Women’s Health Program?

This post has been corrected (see below).

At the Legislature this session, facts are sometimes awfully inconvenient, especially when the subject is Planned Parenthood.

Last week I went to a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting, where senators were hearing two bills that would renew the Women’s Health Program—a program that uses Medicaid money to provide birth control, healthcare screenings and other family planning services to low-income women. It’s set to expire this year.

Right-to-life groups showed up to oppose the program’s extension, arguing “it fails to include sufficient protection to prevent tax dollars from flowing to abortion providers,” Joe Pojman with Texas Alliance for Life told the committee.

“Family planning is a revenue stream for the abortion industry,” agreed Emily Horne with Texas Right-to-Life. “Family planning dollars should be directed to agencies that don’t provide abortions.”

Wait, I thought this hearing was about family planning and birth control, not abortion?

Federal and state law bar abortion providers from using government money to fund abortions. Per requirements issued by the state Attorney General, Planned Parenthood health centers that provide family planning services must be financially and legally separate from their clinics that perform abortions. The two types of centers are separate 501-(c)(3) non-profit organizations, each with its own boards of directors, payrolls, and in most cases, its own building. (In a few cases, the two types of nonprofits are located in the same building but on different floors. The AG does not require that the services be performed in different buildings). The AG also requires that the centers have “easily distinguishable” names. For example, in Austin, Planned Parenthood Austin Family Planning Inc. receives family planning money and is a separate entity from the Planned Parenthood of Austin Surgical and Sexual Health Services, Inc., which is a licensed abortion facility. The law also requires that organizations that contract with the state for family planning dollars be audited every two years to ensure they are complying with the requirements.

Yet no one at the hearing stopped the right-to-life advocates to point all that out. At least two senators at the hearing—Republicans Jane Nelson and Bob Deuell—know full well that government money can’t pay for abortions. Neither did anything to make that clear.

Suddenly, a hearing that was supposed to be about renewing a program that helps thousands of low-income women plan their pregnancies and promotes overall wellness turned into a misinformed rant about Planned Parenthood. Is this program really on the brink of dissolving because right-to-life groups are saying family planning money helps support abortion?

I left the hearing dumbfounded that no one said anything. The next day, I ran into Pojman, and we sat down to talk for another story I’m working on. When I asked him about his testimony from the previous day, he acknowledged I was right about Planned Parenthood abortion clinics being separate from those that do family planning. Pojman said he’s specifically unhappy that sometimes abortions by a Planned Parenthood provider are performed in the same building as their family planning services. He’s also concerned that the separate organizations share staff, even though the AG requires employees to keep a detailed timesheet that distinguishes what work they have done for which type of center.

 “Yes, technically they don’t get money,” he told me. “But it’s a distinction on paper….It’s a bookkeeping sham.”

So there we go, straight from the horse’s mouth. Yet he was allowed to continue testifying without outlining all the facts, and lawmakers may actually consider not renewing a program that helps thousands of women because of it.

Correction: This post originally read, “Pojman went on to say that Planned Parenthood is using government money for abortions and should be prohibited from participating in the Women’s Health Program.” After reviewing the committee hearing transcript, we’ve concluded this wasn’t an accurate representation of Pojman’s testimony. Pojman said that public money goes to organizations like Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions among other services. But he didn’t say that Planned Parenthood was using government money for abortions. He also testified that government funds for family planning shouldn’t go to abortion providers but instead to clincis that offer comprehensive primary care. We regret the error.

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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Published at 10:10 pm CST
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