The dark clouds hanging over women's health clinics in Texas have just unleashed a torrential storm on the state's low-income women: in response to Texas' refusal to allow Planned Parenthood clinics to participate in a state program that provides 100,000 of the state's poorer women with health services such as birth control, the federal government will withhold its $35 million contribution to the program (federal money constitutes 90 percent of the program's total funding). Reuters reports that the decision, which Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in Houston on Friday, elicited an outraged response from Governor Rick Perry, who called the move an "egregious federal overreach."
Wait, isn't this what Republican lawmakers are always clamoring for, to have the long, reptilian arm of the government retract back into its District of Columbia shell and stop meddling in state affairs? Something about having and eating cakes comes to mind, and also something about being careful when wishing for things because selfish, shortsighted wishes can fuck a lot of innocent people over.
The dispute between Texas and the federal government has been brewing for a year, ever since the Texas legislature cut funding for Planned Parenthood because the clinics were supposedly — though not actually — providing abortions. The federal government says that Texas' decision to exclude a qualified health provider like Planned Parenthood from its health program violates the rules of Medicaid, and is, therefore, illegal. Texas' initial move to block funding to Planned Parenthood forced 11 clinics across the state to shut down, and now, faced with a dearth of federal money, 130,000 women who obtain contraceptives through Medicaid could lose their health benefits because Texas lawmakers are too intractable in their crusade against abortion.
Texas had enacted a tiered system of family planning financing similar to a system adopted by New Hampshire in which Planned Parenthood and other women's clinics could receive state funding only in the highly unlikely case that the state could withhold that funding from government-run clinics. Lawmakers cut the two-year budget for Texas' family planning services from $111 million to $38 million — which, compounded by the evaporated federal funds, leaves the number of women without access to health services at an estimated 400,000 — and signed regulations prohibiting clinics affiliated with groups that provide abortions from receiving state money. Though none of the Planned Parenthood clinics affected by the budget cuts provided abortions, factually deficient opponents of Planned Parenthood argue that "hiring," i.e. providing with federal money, the organization to provide family planning services to poor women keeps the the whole operation spluttering for air just high enough above water to indirectly support abortion.
Rick Perry has characterized the Obama administration's decision as being "politically motivated," and pouted that Sebelius hadn't informed the Texas state government that she would make the announcement on Friday. While we might all (rightly) roll our eyes at Perry's politically motivated anger, I think we can find a way to empathize with the ten-gallon governor through an entirely pertinent reference to the climax of Disney's Aladdin, when Jafar makes his last and seemingly perfect wish to be the all-powerful genie and realizes too late that with his limitless cosmic powers comes an eternal prison sentence in the genie's lamp. By pulling the rug out from under Texas' health fund, — something that the government was required by law to do after Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from state funding — the federal government has granted the anachronistic Republican wish for wider-reaching state autonomy, but all that power comes at a price — a grand total of 400,000 unfairly disenfranchised women, many of who now exist on islands far beyond the reach of a clinic that will provide them with proper healthcare.