Waco Worth

After losing state and federal funding, regional branches of Planned Parenthood in Austin, Waco and Dallas-Forth Worth will merge into a single organization to reduce program costs and keep as many clinics as possible open.

The board of directors for the three Planned Parenthood branches, which lost a combined $5 million in funding, unanimously voted Wednesday to merge into Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, a decision that was in the works for about a year. The nonprofit will consist of 26 health centers throughout the region beginning Sept. 1.

Sarah Wheat, interim Co-CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region, said the merger was highly influenced by funding cuts to the program.

“We’ve been getting a lot of support from the community and working more closely than ever with individual donors to keep our three clinics open here in Austin,” she said. “But the merger is a good fit geographically and will help us stretch our donors’ dollars.”

Planned Parenthood organizations in Texas were forced out of the Women’s Health Program last month after the Texas Legislature passed a law to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the program. The program provides health care, including cancer screenings and reduced-cost birth control for low-income women. The federal government, which funded 90 percent of the program, announced they would stop federal funding for it because Texas violated federal Medicaid laws by choosing which clinics could receive funding. The health system in Texas is in a 90-day transition into a fully state-run $33 million-a-year program.

Wheat said Planned Parenthood continuously treats a high number of college students, and it is important to maintain clinics and continue providing screenings for students who often seek the program for inexpensive help.

The merger will eliminate duplicate administration positions in order to consolidate their staff and reduce program costs, she said. Ken Lambrecht, CEO of Planned Parenthood North Texas, will serve as CEO of the new organization.

“The programs for which funding was eliminated from are programs that have been in place for over 40 years,” she said. “These programs have historically been supported with government dollars because they are vital for early cancer screenings.”

Catherine Frazier, Gov. Rick Perry’s press secretary, said Planned Parenthood is using the merger as a scare tactic to make women think their care is compromised.

Frazier said Planned Parenthood should instead be advocating for renewed federal funding.

Fran Hagerty, head of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, said existing health care providers not affiliated with Planned Parenthood are also suffering because of the funding cuts. These health providers receive funding from the state’s family planning budget, which the Women’s Health Program falls under, but the budget has been depleted with the loss of federal funding, Hegarty said.

“Even in the best circumstances, existing providers can’t offer the services Planned Parenthood offers these women for the same cost,” she said. “These cuts have been devastating across the board.”

Most of the clinics that the association represents have lost 85 percent of their budgets, while half have been completely defunded, Hagerty said.

Pre-journalism sophomore Rachel Bush, president of Texas Students for Life, said the anti-abortion group was happy that Planned Parenthood was defunded and must now scramble to keep clinics open.

She said she was unaware that other non-affiliated clinics were being affected by federal funding cuts.

“We need to find a way to make a distinction between defunding Planned Parenthood and other medical groups that provide good services left caught in the crossfire instead of profiting from abortion,” Bush said.

The Obama administration’s decision was a political move to appease the abortion rights base while pulling the rug from unaffiliated individuals, including 100,000 women and 2,500 health care providers under the Women’s Health Program, Frazier said.

“Planned Parenthood has no entitlement to our tax dollars,” she said. “If you are in the business of providing or promoting abortions, we don’t think Texas should be in the business of funding your efforts.” 

Printed on Friday, April 20, 2012 as: Budget cuts consolidate Planned Parenthood