Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Planned Parenthood's Abilene clinic closes; some residents gather to celebrate

By Brian Bethel
  • Posted November 9, 2012 at 10 p.m., Abilene Online

  • photos by Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
About 20 anti-abortion protesters gather late Friday afternoon to celebrate the closing of Abilene's Planned Parenthood branch.
    photos by Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News About 20 anti-abortion protesters gather late Friday afternoon to celebrate the closing of Abilene's Planned Parenthood branch.

    Kristin Staples, center manager for the Abilene branch of Planned Parenthood, boxes files for transfer to the San Angelo branch, on the day the center closed its doors Friday.
    Photo by Nellie Doneva
    Kristin Staples, center manager for the 
    Abilene branch of Planned Parenthood, 
    boxes files for transfer to the San Angelo 
    branch, on the day the center 
    closed its doors Friday.
    Planned Parenthood of West Texas' Abilene clinic closed its doors Friday, a mere day after a Texas district judge issued an injunction that keeps in place its parent program — for a time — in the state's highly-contested Women's Health Program.
    About 1,200 of the 2,500 women the Abilene clinic served were helped through the WHP, a Medicaid waiver program that provides low-income women with family planning services, related health screenings and birth control.
    When closing of the Abilene clinic was announced in mid-October, the decision was "directly related to state funding cuts," said Carla Holeva, the interim chief executive officer of the Abilene clinic, told the Reporter-News.
    "Last September, we took a pretty big hit when we weren't eligible for Title 20 funds anymore in the state," Holeva said, adding the cuts amounted to "about $600,000 of our budget."
    With further cuts in the WHP anticipated, "We just cannot keep this clinic open," she said in October.
    On Friday, Holeva said women served by the clinic have the option to transfer their records to the San Angelo Clinic, or to another provider upon request.
    Some Abilene women already have chosen to travel to San Angelo for care, she said.
    "We look forward to seeing women in San Angelo if they would choose to continue services with us," Holeva said. "But I think our role over the last week or so here has been helping women and men find health care here in Abilene."
    Holeva said several entities, such as the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, already have "stepped up" to help local clients.
    "The Women's Health program is still available here in Abilene, it's just finding you a provider," she said.
    But no matter what, given the current fight over the program's future, such funding will "probably only be available until the end of year," Holeva said, at which point an alternative program proposed by Gov. Rick Perry that only uses state funding "will probably begin."
    "That's what he's telling everyone, so we'll have to wait and see," she said.
    Earlier this year, Texas adopted a policy to exclude family planning clinics that are Planned Parenthood affiliates from participating in the Women's Health Program.
    The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined that Texas' stance "was contrary to policies permitting patients' freedom to choose their health care providers," according to a recent report by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
    The center sent a letter to Texas officials Wednesday that said the affiliate rule violates federal law, and therefore the center was cutting $36 million a year for the Women's Health Program on Dec. 31.
    On Thursday, Texas District Judge Steve Yelenosky extended a temporary order issued two weeks ago that stopped Texas from defunding clinics and doctors that have ties to groups that provide abortions.
    Texas officials have known since March that federal officials planned to cut funding and have attempted to develop a new program relying solely on state funding, originally set to launch Nov. 1.
    Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office, said the state would immediately appeal Yelenosky's decision.
    A trial examining Planned Parenthood's case is scheduled Dec. 17.
    In an earlier story, Holeva emphasized that "you can't receive women's health and family planning funds if you're an abortion provider."
    "Planned Parenthood of West Texas doesn't provide abortions," she said in October. "Our Planned Parenthood Choice Center has, but not West Texas."
    Planned Parenthood Choice offers in-clinic abortion at a location in Midland.
    According to the organization's website, an "abortion pill," a combination of two medications used to abort a pregnancy of less than nine weeks by ultrasound, has been offered in Midland, San Angelo and Abilene.
    To Paula Matchen, president of West Texans for Life, the clinic's closing is a victory for the anti-abortion group, plain and simple — though she acknowledges that Perry's fight against funding Planned Parenthood plays deeply into the equation.
    "(People have said) you can't fight the big monster Planned Parenthood by praying and by doing this and that," she said. "And yes, I'm well aware that Rick Perry is the driving force behind this. Yes, he's No. 1 in this."
    But to Matchen, the countless days her group has spent praying and protesting outside of Abilene's clinic "made a dent" in number of people who chose to come to the clinic, which she suspects "made a difference in the money situation" at the Abilene clinic.
    "That's definitely because of 40 Days for Life," she said, referring to a large, ongoing anti-abortion protest campaign heavily supported by Matchen and others in Abilene.
    "I want everyone to know that 40 Days for Life was the first organization that stood out there, and they were the organization, besides Rick Perry, that brought down planned parenthood in this situation," she said.
    But while she and others in Abilene, who planned to gather Friday night to celebrate the closure of the clinic, feel a sense of victory, Matchen said she will not feel "closure until there is no more abortion."
    On Friday, Holeva said that the Abilene clinic has had continued, strong support from both the community and its clients, who she described as "a fabulous group of women and men who have been coming to us for the past 12 years and trusting us with their health care and education."
    "We couldn't ask for more kindness and support for this community and the group of individuals who have stood up for us and with us," she said.
    That said, to Holeva, the current fight over women's health care funding in Texas is "one of the best examples" of "what happens when we put politics in the middle of women's health.
    "Women lose out," she said.
    This story contains materials from The Associated Press.
    © 2012 Abilene Reporter-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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