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Texas, Feds Face Off Over Planned Parenthood

Rene Resendez, a 24-year-old uninsured graduate student, used to be a client at the Planned Parenthood in Odessa, Texas, which closed earlier this month because of state budget cuts. (NPR)

Texas and the federal government are going at each other again, this time over Planned Parenthood.

The Texas Legislature cut off all Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood because of its involvement in abortions; in response, the federal government has suspended funding for the state's reproductive health program.

Now, Texas is suing the Obama administration.

Closed For Business

Odessa is a gritty, oil patch city of 100,000 on the flatlands of West Texas, famous for Permian High School "Mojo" football. According to state records, in 2010, 71 percent of all the women in the county who went to a clinic under the Women's Health Program use Planned Parenthood off Grant Avenue in Odessa. These are low-income women seeking birth control, screenings for breast and cervical cancer or testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

"We're at the Planned Parenthood in Odessa, which has been shut down due to budget cuts," says Rene Resendez, a 24-year-old uninsured grad student. "Closing this one means about 4,000 women have to go to the Midland center if they need to get their checkups or birth control or anything like that."

The Midland Planned Parenthood is about a half-hour drive from Odessa.

'Not Gonna Let The Program Die'

Publicly funded women's health in Texas has been hit with a double whammy.

First, facing a budget shortfall, the Legislature slashed two-thirds of the money for all family planning in the state — that's why the Odessa clinic closed two weeks ago.

Second, conservative lawmakers want to run Planned Parenthood out of the state.

Last session, the Texas Legislature barred any clinic with any affiliation to an abortion provider from receiving Medicaid money. Planned Parenthood's health clinics are legally separate from its abortion clinics, though they may be under the same roof. What that means is the Planned Parenthood clinic in Midland will soon have to start charging Resendez for health services that used to be free.

"I'd have to call around and check prices, which I didn't have to do when I had the Women's Health Plan," Resendez says. "And from the pricing I've looked at, it's about $125-$200 for a basic annual visit, plus birth control, which, the one I use is $80, so I don't know where that would come from."

But Resendez and the 100,000 other women who use Planned Parenthood in Texas won't be left in the cold, Gov. Rick Perry told Fox News.

"We're not gonna let the program die," Perry said. "We're gonna find the money somewhere."

Washington, D.C., paid for 90 percent of the Women's Health Program. Now the governor has vowed to find $30 million in state funds to make up the cut-off federal dollars. Anti-abortion activists, such as Mike Banschbach of Pro-Life Midland, claim that Planned Parenthood is replaceable.

"If Planned Parenthood Midland shuts its door, hallelujah," Banschbach says. "We've been working for that for a long time; they've been here for 20 years. There are places for people to go other than Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services."

Low-Income Women Left Out?

A well-placed state government source said coming up with the money won't be so hard. The challenge is coming up with new providers.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission boasts that there are more than 2,500 OB-GYNs and clinics in the state that are eligible to fill the gap left by Planned Parenthood. One of the biggest providers in Odessa, after Planned Parenthood, is the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

"I mean, let's face it, if it was a lucrative program you can bet your boots that the private sector would have already signed up, they would be graciously accepting those patients into their practice," says Dr. Moss Hampton, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the health center. Hampton says that Planned Parenthood clinics served patients that other doctors didn't want to accept.

Medicaid reimburses at about half the rate of private insurance. A spokesperson for the state health commission says it is redoubling its outreach efforts to get new doctors to see these low-income women.

Texas has among the highest rates of uninsured women, unwanted pregnancies and cervical cancer in the nation. Women's health advocates say any disruption in the deliverance of reproductive services in this state could be disastrous.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Planned Parenthood is at the center of a legal battle between the state of Texas and the federal government. Earlier this month, the Texas legislature cut off all Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood because of its involvement in abortions. In response, the federal government has suspending funding for a reproductive health program in Texas, and now Texas is suing the Obama administration. Here is more from NPR's John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Odessa is a gritty, oil patch city of 100,000 on the flatlands of West Texas, famous for Permian High School Mojo football. According to state records, in 2010, 71 percent of all the women in the county who went to a clinic under the Women's Health Program came here to Planned Parenthood off Grant Street in Odessa.

These are low-income women seeking birth control, screenings for breast and cervical cancer or STD testing. Women like 24-year-old, uninsured grad student Rene Resendez.

RENE RESENDEZ: We're at the Planned Parenthood in Odessa which has been shut down due to budget cuts. Closing this one means about 4,000 women have to go to the Midland center if they need to get their checkups or birth control or anything like that.

BURNETT: The Midland Planned Parenthood is about a half-hour drive from Odessa. Publicly-funded women's health in Texas has been hit with a double whammy. First, facing a budget shortfall, the legislature slashed two-thirds of the money for all family planning in the state. That's why the Odessa clinic closed two weeks ago.

Second, conservative lawmakers want to run Planned Parenthood out of the state. Last session, the Texas legislature barred any clinic with any affiliation to an abortion provider from receiving Medicaid money. Planned Parenthood's health clinics are legally separate from its abortion clinics, though they may be under the same roof.

What that means is the Planned Parenthood clinic in Midland will soon have to start charging Rene Resendez for health services that used to be free.

RESENDEZ: I'd have to call around and check prices, which I didn't have to do when I had the women's health plan. And from the pricing I've looked at it's about $125-$200 for a basic annual visit, plus birth control, which the one I use is $80, so I don't know where that would come from.

BURNETT: But Resendez and the 100,000 other women who use Planned Parenthood in Texas will not be left in the cold, Governor Rick Perry told Fox News.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: We're not going to let the program die. We're going to find the money somewhere.

BURNETT: Washington paid for 90 percent of the women's health program. Now, the governor has vowed to find $30 million in state funds to make up the cut-off federal dollars. Anti-abortion activists like Mike Banschbach, of Pro-Life Midland, claim that Planned Parenthood is replaceable.

MIKE BANSCHBACK: If Planned Parenthood in Midland shuts its door, hallelujah. We've been working for that for a long time, they've been here for 20 years. There are places for people to go other than Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services.

BURNETT: A well-placed state government source said coming up with the money won't be so hard. The challenge is coming up with new providers. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission boasts that there are more than 2,500 ob/gyns and clinics in the state who are eligible to fill the gap left by Planned Parenthood. One of the biggest providers in Odessa, after Planned Parenthood, is the Texas Tech Health Science Center.

CELESTE: University Women's Health Center, this is Celeste. (Spanish spoken)

BURNETT: Dr. Moss Hampton is chairman of obstetrics and gynecology.

DR. MOSS HAMPTON: I mean let's face it, if it was a lucrative program, you can bet your boots that the private sector would have already signed up, they would be graciously accepting those patients into their practice.

BURNETT: What I'm hearing you saying is that Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas accepted patients that other doctors didn't want to accept?

HAMPTON: Right, I would agree with that.

BURNETT: Medicaid reimburses at about half the rate that private insurance does. A spokesperson for the state health commission says it is redoubling its outreach efforts to get new doctors to see these low-income women.

And here's why it matters. Texas has among the highest rates of uninsured women, unwanted pregnancies, and cervical cancer in the nation. Women's health advocates say that any disruption in the deliverance of reproductive services in this state could be disastrous.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

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GREENE: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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