By Taylor Rexrode
AUSTIN — Planned Parenthood supporters rallied on the Capitol steps Thursday in the hopes of reinstating the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.
This Medicaid program was replaced by the Texas Women’s Health Program on Jan. 1. This program cut family planning funding and led to the closure of 53 Planned Parenthood centers across the state.
The Planned Parenthood Lobby Day, created by the Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, drew men and women from across the state to Austin.
The rally started at 11 a.m. on the south steps of the Capitol, bringing in hundreds of supporters, including Baylor students Trenton Garza and Alicia Kobylecky.
The lobby day was in response to the last legislative session, where Texas legislators cut family planning expenses by $73.6 million.
The changes in legislation left approximately 160,000 women without access to breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and other basic forms of preventive care according to Planned Parenthood.
The Texas Women’s Health Plan, which replaced the Medicaid Women’s Health Plan on Jan. 1, came with an Affiliate Ban Rule.
This banned health care providers associated with abortion clinics from participating in the program.
The new Texas plan stopped funds from reaching 50 Planned Parenthood clinics that participated in the former Medicaid program.
Garza, a junior from Bushland, said the current system for women’s health is lacking a sense of privacy.
“Women could no longer choose their provider,” Garza said. “That is a matter of individual choice and privacy whereas the state was interceding and saying, ‘Well, you can go to any provider except those who are somehow affiliated with an abortion clinic.’”
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who is filing House Bill 2819 to restore the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, spoke at the rally along with other representatives.
The keynote speaker at the event was Stephanie March, an actress best known for her role as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot on NBC’s “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
March, a native Texan, spoke about how legislators and citizens can do better in upholding what she sees as family values that Texans share.
“We can do better,” March said. “I’m tired of Texas playing politics with women’s lives. How can we hold ourselves up as an example of family when we consistently deny our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our girlfriends and our daughters access to the most basic life-saving health care?”
State Sen. Wendy Davis also spoke at the event on the importance of family planning services for Texas. Davis said lobby day is important for doing what is “right for human beings.”
“It’s wonderful to be with people of like mind who truly are developing their politics around what’s right for human beings, who are truly thinking about the human consequences of the decisions that we make,” Davis said. “For women who are trying to make sure they have a bright future for themselves, each of us forms an incredibly important piece to make sure she can do that. To join with Planned Parenthood in a rally of support is wonderful.”
After the rally, lobby meetings commenced inside the Capitol. Citizens spoke to their state representatives on behalf of Planned Parenthood, leaving behind materials with facts and statistics and what changes they wish to see in legislation.
Today is the last day for bills to be filed in this legislative session.
Kobylecky, a doctoral student from Greenville, said she enjoyed the experience for the interactions that she had with fellow lobbyers.
“I love people’s stories,” Kobylecky said. “It was awesome to see so many women and men who were ridiculously passionate about supporting women’s health care enough to come down here and just talk with people about it, people who they knew wouldn’t agree with them.”
Garza said that the experience was important for democracy.
“This was such an experience,” Garza said. “It’s good to be around such passionate people for this cause. As for going in and talking with the staff for legislation, that’s democracy. I hope they listen and that it influences their choices in upcoming bills.”
Planned Parenthood has served citizens of Texas for 75 years, providing birth control, annual well-woman exams, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, breast and cervical exams and sex education.