While opposition to the HHS mandate has caused many liberals to accuse Republicans of a “war on women,” the Obama administration itself has just declared the first front in its own war on women’s health care. Its casus belli? The Texas government’s restriction on funding for abortion providers.
As of last week, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services has withdrawn $30 million worth of funding from a Texas Medicaid program that provides health-care services for low-income women. This HHS policy begins to confirm what conservatives have suspected all along: While the Obama administration has made it clearer than it would like to claim the mantle of “protecting women’s health,” its real aim is unfettered access to abortion and ubiquitous, free contraception.
The affected program, Texas’s Women’s Health Program (WHP), which provides family-planning services to low-income women who earn too much to qualify for regular Medicaid, is a waiver initiative that funds services beyond the purview of standard Medicaid. Texas is what is called a “pass through” Medicaid state, which means that state legislators set funding priorities for the state agencies that disburse federal funds. Texas adopted a rule last year to prevent any of the WHP funds from going to clinics that provide or refer for abortions — most notably, Planned Parenthood franchises, which had received 40 percent of the program’s funding.
But in December, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) informed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that, in its opinion, Texas’s restrictions on the waiver program were unlawful. Essentially, CMS contends that Texas cannot restrict the distribution of its WHP funds because patients have the right to choose any Medicaid provider — and threatened to withdraw the funds entirely unless the restrictions were removed. The two parties agreed to a negotiation period ending March 14, and, after the federal government refused to make any concessions, all federal funding for WHP was withdrawn.
Governor Rick Perry has insisted that he will ensure that the program continues without federal support, at the state’s expense. The state may, unfortunately, be bearing this burden for a while: HHS’s funding withdrawal evinces a steadfast commitment to funding abortion providers, and the Texas government and Texans themselves are equally adamant that they will do everything they can to avoid such support.