Ellis Email Express

Texas women gather in Austin to protest cuts to the Women's Health Program. photo by: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Dear Friend,

I want to provide you a quick update on the continued assault on women’s health, the alarming impact reckless education budget cuts are having on our children’s schools, and how you can get involved and make your voice heard before more cuts are enacted.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Sincerely,

RODNEY ELLIS

ASSAULT ON WOMEN’S HEALTH

Like you, I have been shocked at the rapid and comprehensive assault on women’s health in Texas and across the United States. We’ve moved well beyond the issue of choice into issues that most Americans believed were settled decades ago.

This is not about Rush Limbaugh’s indefensible and misogynist attacks on a young woman who simply exercised her constitutional right to petition her government. He is free to say incendiary things, and we are free to criticize those statements and remind companies that where they invest their ad dollars speaks volumes about what their business stands for.

That’s an American strength.

Texas women gather in Austin to protest cuts to the Women’s Health Program. photo by: Marjorie Kamys Cotera
No, what I am concerned about is how policymakers in Texas and all across the United States are pushing legislation to enact laws that infringe on the rights and health of women.

Over the past year, leadership has taken drastic measures to limit the ability of women in our state to access health care. From intrusive, unnecessary trans-vaginal probe sonogram legislation, the only purpose of which is hurting and shaming women, to cutting and ending cost-effective programs aimed at providing basic preventative services for hundreds of thousands of low-income Texas women – the Texas leadership sent a message that they do not care about women’s health.

Last year, family planning program funding, which helps clinic sites across the state provide reproductive health care to women and men, was reduced by $73.6 million for the next biennium, a 66 percent cut. This program serves 244,000 people and as a result of this cut, 180,000 Texans will lose access to family planning services including pap smears, clinical breast exams, and birth control.

In addition to family planning cuts, at the direction of leadership, the Health and Human Services Commissioner signed a rule in the Medicaid Woman’s Health Program (WHP) that will exclude a large number of the program’s most qualified, cost-efficient providers and will essentially end the program.

The Medicaid WHP was launched with the aim of reducing Medicaid costs by providing low-income women access to family planning and basic health services, excluding abortion. It is a federal-state partnership, where the federal government covers 90 percent of the costs. Over the last five-years, the program has been successful in providing needed services to low-income women and saving costs to the state.

In 2008, the Medicaid WHP saved the state approximately $42.4 million in All Funds. The program also provided needed services to approximately 130,000 low-income Texas women. For many of these low income women, this is their only access to basic care including screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes, and well woman services such as pap smears, breast cancer screenings, and access to contraception.

These reductions in funding for services and providers will have a great impact on Houston as 30 percent of the city’s residents are uninsured. The needs of Texas women to be served will not disappear just because state funding is slashed. Instead, these women will turn to our emergency rooms and public hospitals for their care. These cuts will lead to late diagnoses and treatment for numerous women and unintended pregnancies that local taxpayers will inevitably pay for through higher property taxes.

Texas is already number one in the nation for uninsured, third for cervical cancer rates, third for teen birth rates, and where more than 50 percent of all births in the state are covered by Medicaid – these funding cuts and barriers to access will have a substantial effect on the health of our state.

Lastly, a three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction preventing the enforcement of Texas’ sonogram legislation. As a result, the Department of State Health Services has released guidelines for women’s health clinics and will begin enforcing Texas’ sonogram law, one of strictest laws in nation.

This legislation requires women to have a sonogram at least 24 hours ahead of an abortion, the doctor to play the heartbeat aloud, describe the fetus, and show the woman the image, unless she chooses not to view it. Most women will have to endure a horribly invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound even if her doctor has not determined it to be medically necessary.

People can disagree on the contentious issue of abortion, but we have to move away from laws that take Texas back to the 1950s and endanger the health of the women of this state.

SPEAK OUT AND STAND UP FOR OUR SCHOOLS!

Last year, I helped lead the fight against reckless education and health care cuts. Tens of thousands of concerned Texans marched on the Capitol to urge lawmakers and the governor to “Save Our State” to oppose reckless cuts to schools and health care and find a more responsible way to balance the budget. Sadly, the legislature did not listen to the people, and slashed $4 billion from Texas schools now, and another $1 billion in grants.

These cuts are having a severe impact on our neighborhoods’ schools. While the state left billions of dollars in its savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, school districts across the state have been forced to spend down theirs. There have been teacher and staff layoffs and cutbacks all across Texas. One of the biggest impacts is in the classroom itself, where we have seen an explosion of requests to waive 22-1 class size limits – just as opponents of budget cuts warned. According to the Texas Education Agency, the number of elementary classes exceeding the 22-student cap has soared from 2,238 to 8,479!

The 22-1 ratio has been on the books for a quarter-century because it works. Study after study has proven that smaller class sizes lead to better results. The reason is simple: smaller classes give teachers more one-on-one time with students and allow them to create more customized instruction and assignments to meet individual students’ needs. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Education concluded that smaller classes in early grades have significant positive effects through grade 8 and help to close the achievement gap between low and high-achieving students. The more kids in a class, the more difficult it becomes for teachers to know their students better and recognize problems and special needs early.

Sadly, despite the recovering economy, we’re not out of the woods yet. Next session, we will again face a giant budget deficit and those in charge have already indicated more cuts is their blueprint for the future. If you are concerned about the potential impact of these budget cuts, you need to make yourself heard. The budget process is ongoing and those in charge of drafting our spending blueprint need to hear from you. I urge you to contact statewide elected officials and legislators and tell them to protect Texas families and schools in 2013.

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