In yet another move that proves the Texas GOP’s willingness to choose political points over the well-being of Texans, the state has announced that it is pulling still more funding from Planned Parenthood. This time, in the form of a grant that has allowed Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast provide HIV testing and prevention services since 1988.
On Monday, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) notified Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, the Harris County affiliate that has been receiving the grant, that funding would not be renewed starting on December 31st.
State Representative Donna Howard, a former Registered Nurse, spoke out against the move in a statement Tuesday. “This latest action from the Department of State Health Services is unconscionable,” Howard said. “In removing the participation of a trusted, qualified provider, the Department has all but guaranteed that more cases of HIV will go undetected, thereby increasing infection and morbidity rates related to the virus.”
HIV is still a threat to public health in Texas, and Harris County is no exception. And, as Howard explained further in her statement, the state knows how important these prevention programs are. The December 2015 Legislative Report of the State’s Interagency Coordinating Council for HIV and Hepatitis recommends expanding existing programs in order to better work towards HIV prevention in Texas.
In a 2014 Overview of HIV/AIDS in Texas, the Department of State Health Services highlighted the need for access to testing and preventative services in order to adequately address HIV. “Too many Texans with HIV remain diagnosed and untreated,” the report says, as well as, “Preventing new HIV infections saves money and saves lives.”
The DSHS has consistently highlighted HIV infection rates in Texas as a public health issue, and pointed to prevention and testing as two of the most effective tools in addressing the disease.
In a statement, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Melaney A. Linton, highlighted the innovative and proactive strategies this grant has allowed PPGC to implement over almost three decades of work in the Houston area. By reaching out to the communities at the greatest risk for infection with information, compassion, and testing services, PPGC has not only been able to test more Texans for HIV infection, but also to start combating the shame and stigma that keeps people from getting tested in the first place. The decision not to continue the grant, Linton said, is “devastating.”
This most recent decision, coming swiftly on the heels of pulling Planned Parenthood off the list of providers for services through Medicaid, should clear up any doubt that remained about Abbott’s true aim. Using thoroughly discredited videos and vague references to Medicaid fraud allegations as a transparent front, Abbott and the Republican leadership in Texas have shown that there is nothing they value more than political favor among their primary voters.
Not only is this further proof that Abbott is willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of Texans to lead an ideological crusade against Planned Parenthood, it is also yet another clear example of how their inability to grasp reality makes Texas Republicans ill-equipped to govern our state.
In a stunning example of a complete disavowal of science, medicine, and reason, Republicans in the legislature chose to move $3 million from HIV screening and prevention to abstinence only education this past session. When Mayor-elect (and former State Representative) Sylvester Turner rightly argued that this was irresponsible for a state with the third-highest rate of HIV infection in the country, the lawmaker responsible for the amendment doubled down on his commitment to encouraging Texans to be abstinent until marriage.
Today’s Texas Republicans don’t care about rates of HIV infection or the importance of testing and prevention. They don’t care that this is a disease that disproportionately impacts certain demographics, namely Black males and gay men, or that the grant in question had allowed PPGC to work towards targeting the most at-risk groups for their preventative care. Instead, the Texas GOP values two things: sound bites and talking points – even if public health in Texas has to pay the price.