The “Dirty Dancing” precedent and a lose-lose situation

On Thursday, the Texas House passed a bill to overhaul Medicaid spending, but not before an array of amendments were added. One amendment states:

Any money received by health and human services agencies for family planning services, including grant money, may only be awarded or otherwise provided to a person or facility that does not perform abortions or provide abortion-related services.

The Associated Press reports (as published in the Austin American-Statesman):

Plainview Republican Rep. Jim Landtroop sponsored the amendment freezing state funding for facilities that perform abortions. He amended his own amendment to exclude abortion-related services in the cases of medical emergencies, but only after strenuous objections from Democratic opponents.

“It’s not my intent to punish hospitals,” Landtroop said. “It’s to protect the lives of unborn children.”

I would argue that this measure puts unborn children — and their mothers — at risk.

The fact is that the state (and the feds) already refuse to pay for abortions. What this amendment — and other Medicaid-related legislation at the Capitol — seeks is to strip funding from hospitals and clinics that perform abortions or “related services,” whatever those may be. But these hospitals and clinics are not one-stop abortion shops (as parodied in The Onion this week). These facilities provide pap smears, contraception, mammograms. They provide pre-natal and obstetric care. They operate in part because of Medicaid funding, and many of them primarily serve low-income Texans. In some rural areas, there is not another medical facility for miles. In those areas, these facilities provide pretty much the only care.

And, as evident by Thursday’s House vote, the state would take away that funding because abortion is so evil and wrong that not only are we refusing to pay for it, we’re refusing to fund any health care provider that performs this completely legal procedure — or any service “related” to it.

Now, this doesn’t protect unborn children. Making something illegal, or even hard to find, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. What this bill would mean is that clinics and hospitals would have to take a stand: stop performing abortions or find new income.

Legislators seem to hope that they choose the former. This would make abortions hard to come by, especially for the lower-income set served by these clinics. Those that don’t accept Medicaid funding aren’t affected. But the problem is: These women will continue to seek abortions. Back-alley, illegal procedures. We’ve all seen “Dirty Dancing,” right? Well at least one Houston congresswoman has. The San Antonio Express-News writes:

“We have made abortion so difficult in this state. I predict that women very soon will be going underground,” House Democratic Caucus leader Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said.

There will be botched abortions and women ending up in hospital emergency rooms.

“Is that abortion related?” she asked.

But, then what if health care providers choose the right to perform abortions and related services rather than accept Medicaid funding, what happens to their clients? Where can those people go and see a doctor who takes Medicaid? The list is dwindling already. And, remember, women already aren’t getting abortions with Medicaid dollars. So, women (and men and children) would no longer have access to the basic medical care Medicaid is supposed to cover.

The Texas Tribune reports:

Many Democrats … said the wording of the amendment could potentially cut off state funding for any hospital that has given a woman a sonogram, prescribed the morning-after pill or helped a woman after a botched “back alley” abortion, which could technically be abortion-related services, they said. 

“You may not intend it that way, but when you read your amendment, [it] includes those types of services,” said veteran Democrat and lawyer Sylvester Turner.

Either way, the health care providers lose. Either way, the women of Texas lose.

“I rarely get on the (microphone),” Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “But I’m concerned that it continues to be men that are considering bills about women’s health. I’m getting tired of it.”
(as quoted in the Texas Observer

This bill will now go back to the Senate for a vote on this and other amendments.

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