Women in Texas—including many older women well past reproductive age—just fell victim to anti-choice legislators’ obsession with restricting access to abortion. Last week, lawmakers there passed a budget that excludes the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics from providing screenings for breast and cervical cancer. The logic of the budget provision’s supporters goes something like this: One of the things Planned Parenthood does is help people terminate unwanted pregnancies. Terminating unwanted pregnancies is bad. Therefore, Planned Parenthood should be financially strangled and denied state funds that allow it to provide a range of other women’s healthcare services.
It’s simple: “Don’t perform abortions and you get the money,” state Senator Jane Nelson, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, has said about the plan.
The Texas legislature applied this same reasoning back in 2011, when it excluded Planned Parenthood from taking part as a qualified family planning provider under the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. Back then, the state showed that it was willing to give up $36 million in matching federal funds (and serve 30,000 fewer women) in order to maintain its commitment to reactionary reproductive-health policy. But this time around, the attack on Planned Parenthood isn’t even related to birth control or treating sexually transmitted infections. Instead, it’s an attack on Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide mammograms, pap tests, and biopsies. It’s an attack on Planned Parenthood as the place where an uninsured woman can turn when she feels a lump in her breast or has abnormal bleeding but hasn’t seen a doctor in years.
Texans are at especially high risk of developing certain reproductive cancers, according to a report from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The incidence of cervical cancer there is 17 percent higher than the national average, according to the report. Latinas in Texas are the most likely to be diagnosed with it, and Latinas living along the border are 31 percent more likely to die of cervical cancer, compared to women living in non-border communities, Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, Texas policy director of NLIRH, told me. These high mortality rates are associated with the difficulty immigrant women face in getting regular screenings—exactly what Planned Parenthood has been able to offer as a provider through its participation in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services (BCCS) program. According to news reports, last year the screening program served 33,599 Texans, 57 percent of whom were Latina.