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Spirited Testimony in Austin as Proposed Texas Women’s Health Program Changes Get Hearing

(Becca Aaronson, Texas Tribune)
The Texas Department of State Health Services got an earful today from lawmakers and women’s health advocates at a public meeting in Austin to discuss proposed rules for the Texas Women’s Health Program — specifically, the state’s plan to sacrifice 90 percent of federal funding for the program in order to exclude Planned Parenthood and prevent participating physicians from discussing abortion in any capacity with patients.

“Try to get the politics out of the way and do what’s best for Texas women,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, before an eruption of applause from the audience. She emphasized a point reiterated by others testifying at the hearing: that the Women’s Health Program provides cancer screenings, birth control and wellness exams for 130,000 low-income women but does not provide abortions.

One of the proposed rules for the program states that a participating physician could not “promote elective abortions” by providing “counseling concerning the use of abortion as a method of family planning” — even outside the scope of the Women’s Health Program. Physician groups, including the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, oppose the proposed rule, arguing it will put a “gag order” on physicians that could interfere with patient-physician relationships.

“We strongly oppose any interference into a physician’s ability to use his or her medical judgment as to the information that is in the best interest of his or her patient,” the groups wrote in a letter to DSHS.

“Because of the proposed rules, the future viability of the Texas Women’s Health Program is at risk,” said state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, explaining that physicians considering participating in the program would be forced to choose between following best medical practices or a political ideology. Davis, who survived breast cancer after being diagnosed at age 32, said during her testimony that she sought public office to defend the doctor-patient relationship, which her personal experience taught her was sacred. She said the proposed rules threaten poor women’s access to life-saving cancer screening.

Texas is currently setting up the Texas Women’s Health Program, a state-financed version of the federally backed Women’s Health Program. In 2011, the Texas Legislature approved a plan to oust Planned Parenthood and other providers affiliated with abortion-providers from the Women’s Health Program. When the federal government disapproved of the state’s plan and said funding would be cut off if Texas proceeded, Gov. Rick Perry pledged to forgo $35 million in annual federal funds and find state money to run the program, at least through the end of 2013.
(Read more of this story at the Texas Tribune)

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