Wasting no time in continuing their multi-biennium assault on the health of Texas women, last week the State Senate introduced SB 2, their proposed budget. This time, the Republican majority is going after the ability of low-income and uninsured women to access to breast and cancer screenings.
The Republican plan is specifically designed to block Planned Parenthood from receiving the funds to do these screenings, which they perform for thousands of low-income, uninsured women each year.
The budget would implement a “tiered” funding mandate to prioritize who receives federal funds to perform breast and cervical cancer screenings.
If that “tiered” structure sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same mechanism Republicans used in 2011 to block federal and state funding for Planned Parenthood health centers, which resulted in more than 300,000 uninsured Texas women losing access to healthcare.
Of course, Planned Parenthood provides critical breast and cervical cancer screenings to low-income and uninsured women across Texas. Last year, Planned Parenthood affiliates served more than 3,300 women through the federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening (BCCS) grants. Over their twenty-year partnership with BCCS, Planned Parenthood has helped an estimated 45,000 Texas women access critical cancer screenings.
Ken Lambrecht, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, responded to the budget with the following statement:
Once again, the Texas Legislature is playing politics with women’s health—and with some of the most vulnerable women in our community—uninsured women facing battles with breast or cervical cancer. We urge politicians to set aside the politics and leave programs that are effective, essential and a lifeline to our patients in place.
What makes it worse?
Texas has one of the highest rates of diagnosis of and death from cervical cancer in the country.
According to the CDC, Texas ranks among the worst states for cervical cancer incidence and fatality. Cervical cancer is actually the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent — an annual pap smear can check for cell changes that usually signal precancerous growths. An abnormal pap smear isn’t a death sentence — the problematic cells can be removed. But it depends on early screening, and making sure women have access to an annual pap test.
Cervical cancer can also be prevented by a vaccine that blocks the most dangerous strains of HPV, which often causes the cancer. Y’all may remember that Rick Perry tried to mandate the vaccine for young women before he changed his mind. Ah well, just another decision that ended the lives of some Texas women and girls — and sadly par for the course in our Legislature.
Republicans will claim that women can seek screenings elsewhere, but their multi-session assault on women’s clinics and care facilities make that harder, especially in a state as big as Texas. And let’s not forget the role that Republicans’ efforts to block the Medicaid expansion plays here: hundreds of thousands of Texans fall into a coverage gap because they’re too poor to purchase health insurance on the exchanges but not destitute enough to qualify for state-funded insurance. These are the women who depend on Planned Parenthood for health care services.
So here’s the real question for Republicans in the State Senate: is shutting down Planned Parenthood more important to y’all than making sure that low-income and uninsured women don’t die of cancer?