Rick Perry speaks at a campaign town hall in Derry, N.H., Tuesday, November 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Governor Rick Perry took the lectern at the annual “Life & Liberty” fundraiser for the Texas Alliance for Life with a smile on his face. It was 2010 and he was in the thick of a re-election campaign, but this was not a crowd he needed to woo. “I kind of feel like I’m at a family reunion,” he told the audience.
Reflecting on his years of collaboration with the group, Perry said, “We have promoted in this state a culture of life. We have strengthened families. We have protected our children’s future.” And, he added, “although our shared efforts have made Texas a safer place for the unborn, our work is far from over.”
Perry’s presidential campaign may be doomed—it’s too early to count him out entirely—but the far-reaching effects of his disastrous decade as Texas governor are just beginning to emerge. For women, things look particularly grim. Perry has presided over a wave of anti-choice legislation that has shredded healthcare services for the state’s most vulnerable. It reached its apex during the 2011 biennial legislative session, which saw a dismantling of Texas’s budget to provide women—especially the poor and uninsured—with access to basic healthcare, including reproductive health and family planning.
“I use the phrase ‘war on women.’ That’s how it feels,” says Regina Rogoff, CEO of People’s Community Clinic in central Texas, which serves thousands of low-income patients. “I’m sure that’s not how the people involved intended it,” she adds magnanimously. “But the consequences [of the budget cuts] are disconnected from any legitimate purpose.”
It’s hard to read the results as unintended consequences. In April the Texas House voted to slash nearly two-thirds of the roughly $100 million biennial budget dedicated to funding basic health and family planning for needy Texans—a budget that since 2005 had served an average of 244,000 women each year who would otherwise lack access to preventive health services (just a fraction of the more than 1 million Texas women who need it). Texas Right to Life Removes $61M Tax Funds From Abortion Industry! was the headline on the anti-choice group’s website celebrating the defunding, which, it boasted, had been “supported and called for by our Pro-Life governor, Rick Perry.”
Lawmakers and healthcare providers point out that none of the funds diverted from basic healthcare—which includes annual gynecological exams and screenings for STDs, diabetes, hypertension, cervical and breast cancers, and more—are spent on abortions. Since they are “pass-through federal funds” (federal tax dollars distributed through the state), Texas and its healthcare contractors are forbidden from using them for abortions. The gutting of this budget means that thousands of women have been shut out from receiving life-saving preventive care and birth control. This will particularly affect Texans in low-income jobs who don’t have health benefits—the very constituents Perry routinely boasts about when touting his job-creating “miracle.”