Planned Parenthood advocates deliver petitions to Governor Abbott

It's the last day the public can weigh in on the state's plan to ask the federal government for money to fund its women's health program.

AUSTIN - Armed with 15,000 letters and petitions from people across Texas, Planned Parenthood advocates walked into the Governor's office Monday afternoon, hoping to let him know what they think about a plan to expand the Healthy Texas Women program.

"Healthy Texas Women, most people don't know what it is," said Savanah Low, a Planned Parenthood volunteer. "They're trying to put in something new to replace something that isn't broke. That is trustworthy."

The Health and Human Services Commission (HHS) plans to submit an 1115 Waiver, asking the federal government to partner with the state to expand the program.

Staff with HHS declined our request for an interview. 

According to the Healthy Texas Women website, the program provides health and family planning services at no cost to low-income women ages 15 to 44. But there's a caveat. 

The health care providers in the program have to follow the state policy of favoring childbirth and not offering abortions. That means Planned Parenthood is barred from the program.

"Unfortunately, the program Texas has proposed is driven by political decisions rather than how can we actually make sure women get the health care that they need," said Sarah Wheat, Spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas

While the Healthy Texas Women program was created in 2016, it's history dates back to 2013. That's when state lawmakers, who wanted to cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood over abortions, waived federal funding for the Medicaid Women's Health Program and created its own programs. They have since evolved into Healthy Texas Women.

Wheat said none of the programs have been able to match to the care provided by Planned Parenthood.

"The number of women that get served today through these programs is not what it used to be," said Wheat. "And studies, public health data, continues to show, women really have a hard time accessing the health care they need in Texas, especially uninsured, low-income women."

And there are concerns about the precedent the Trump administration will set if it grants the state's waiver.

"We completely support any efforts that are going to expand health care," Wheat added, "our concern is once you start putting political goals into a women's health care program, then you start to block access to those services."

Monday is the last day for the public to submit comments to HHS about the waiver. HHS staff will then update the waiver application to include a summary of and response to the comments. The final application will be posted on the HHS web page once it is submitted to the federal government. 

Within 15 days, after Texas submits the waiver application, the federal government will hold an additional 30-day public comment period before making a decision. 

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