Inside the Texas War on Women

Photo: texas and U.S. flags. The texas war on women is on.
(Mister-E / Flickr)

Texas Director of Health and Human Services Tom Suehs signed into law yesterday a state ban on giving Medicaid funds to any doctor or clinic affiliated with organizations that provide abortion (government funds are already barred from directly funding abortion). The law may shut down the state Women’s Health Program, which funds basic health services such as mammograms and Pap smears for over 130,000 low-income Texas women–44 percent of which are provided by Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood responded:

Texas women and Texas taxpayers need this program. The Medicaid Women’s Health Program saves lives, prevents unintended pregnancies and saves taxpayer dollars. For many women, Medicaid WHP is their only source of health care.

The Obama Administration has warned Texas that the decision violates federal law, which states that Medicaid and Medicare cannot exclude qualified providers. But the Texas Health and Human Services Comission argues that states are legally allowed to establish their own provider criteria. If Texas does not budge, the Women’s Health Program will be dissolved when the new law goes into effect on March 14.

Texas was already on the front lines of the nationwide conservative war on women’s health. A sonogram bill–similar to the proposed Virginia law that was withdrawn after outcry last week–was enacted in Texas in 2011. Women seeking abortions in Texas must receive a sonogram and detailed description of the development of the fetus at least 24 hours before the scheduled procedure. Doctors also must offer to play sounds of the fetus’ heartbeat. The need for appointments with the same doctor on two different days has caused massive scheduling problems for Texas clinics.

Like the failed Virginia law, the 2011 Texas bill forces women to receive the medically unnecessary and intrusive “transvaginal ultrasound.” This is because the majority of women get abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when the fetus is too small to be picked up on in an abdominal ultrasound, so a transvaginal probe must be used. In other words, Texan women in need of abortion services are forced to be vaginally penetrated without a choice of whether to consent. Notably, Texas Penal Code defines sexual assault as “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent.”

In sum, Texas last year made abortion as difficult as possible for women and now has cut off 130,000 low-income women from affordable birth control and other health services. The war on women marches on.

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