Texas Has Just Cut Funding For Planned Parenthood's HIV Testing Services

ByEJ Dickson

Planned Parenthood has had a hell of a year. In addition to facing numerous violent threats and attacks on its facilities, including a mass shooting in November in Colorado Springs that resulted in the deaths of three people, the organization has also endured a number of government raids and debilitating budget cuts

Now, a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Texas is facing cuts to its HIV prevention program. 

According to the Texas Tribune, a Houston-based Planned Parenthood affiliate was recently informed that the Department of State Health Services would not be renewing a grant that funds HIV care and prevention services. 

The grant, which Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has received since 1998, not only provided HIV testing services to residents of the Houston area, but also counseling for HIV-positive people and condom distribution. It's set to expire on Dec. 31. 

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The decision to cut HIV testing funding to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is likely to affect thousands of Texas men and women who rely on Planned Parenthood for crucial sexual health resources. According to the Tribune, Planned Parenthood's HIV prevention program has funded more than 138,000 HIV tests in 2014 alone and help diagnose more than 1,180 Houston-area residents living with HIV.

More than 80,000 Texas residents have been diagnosed with HIV, according to statistics from the Department of State Health Services. According to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV surveillance report, the Houston area has the 13th-highest rate of new HIV infections per capita in the United States. 

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's program, which received nearly $600,000 in annual funding, also conducted HIV testing at nightclubs, prisons and college campuses throughout the state. 

"I don't know who else is going to fill that gap, and I don't know if anyone can, frankly," Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, told the Tribune. "Every time the state cuts these programs in an attempt to score political points ... the true victims here are tens of thousands of women and men who no longer have access to health care that they need."

The move appears to be part of the state's larger effort to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding. Earlier this year, for instance, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill cutting off funding to a Planned Parenthood breast cancer testing program, which provided breast cancer services for low-income, uninsured women in Texas. In October, state legislators booted Planned Parenthood from the state's Medicaid program, a decision prompted by the release of undercover videos that showed Planned Parenthood staffers discussing the procurement of fetal tissue. (The footage has been criticized for being "misleading" and heavily edited.)

The ongoing battle to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding tends to focus on the organization's role as an abortion provider, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood says abortions make up only about 3% of its services. (Other sources have estimated that figure is somewhere around 12%.) Indeed, the vast majority of Planned Parenthood's financial resources go to providing contraception and STI testing and treatment, such as the HIV testing services affected by this recent government cut. 

It's unclear whether the funds will be provided to another organization that can offer similar HIV testing and counseling services, though Mic has reached out to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast for comment and clarification on this issue. For its part, a spokesperson for the Department of State Health Services told Mic in an email that "local health departments in the area will provide those services going forward."

What is clear from the latest cut, however, is that the fight against Planned Parenthood is far from over in Texas — even if thousands of low-income men and women who can't afford HIV testing services and other crucial sexual health resources have to pay the price. 

h/t Texas Tribune