With an important court ruling on its side, the state moved ahead Tuesday with its controversial plan to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.
The debate is over how to fund the Women's Health Program. The first step was a public hearing Tuesday in Austin by the Department of State Health Services.
A federal appeals panel of three judges late last month ruled Texas can stop funding Planned Parenthood clinics in the Women's Health Program while the law is challenged in an October trial. Although Tuesday Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a petition to ask the entire Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the state's appeal of a preliminary injunction.
The program, paid for by state and federal funds, offers well-woman exams and cancer screenings to 130,000 low-income women. But the new state law bars money going to any group — such as Planned Parenthood — affiliated with providing abortion services.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas says about 7,000 women in the Dallas-Fort Worth area going to its clinics under WHP must find other providers when the state cuts funding. Alexis Lohse of Fort Worth is one of them.
"When you become attached to a provider, you'd like to continue services with that provider," Lohse said. "It becomes very, very inconvenient and very difficult to find the same level of service elsewhere."
Some Planned Parenthood clients say its not just the inconvenience but the principle.
"This country was built on freedom of choice, and for you to decide as a legislator to make the choice for my health care — that's a problem," said Brendettae Payne of Houston.
But the Republican-controlled Texas legislature had a problem with state money going to a Planned Parenthood that performs abortions — although that service is provided in clinics separate from the Women's Health Program.
In protest of excluding Planned Parenthood, the federal government cut its funding for the Texas program. So on Tuesday, the state held a hearing on new rules for a state-run program.
Some expressed concern there won't be enough providers.
But one North Texas group that opposes abortion, the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, said that shouldn't be a problem.
"There are a variety of alternatives to go to for truly comprehensive health care where women and their families can go to not only be screened for diseases, but actually treated for diseases," said CPLC spokeswoman Becky Visosky.
The state remains confident that women can get the care they need. It says there are about 3,500 providers statewide now; Planned Parenthood ran fewer than 40.
Texas hopes to get the $39 million program running without Planned Parenthood on November 1.