In an effort to protect residents’ already limited access to reproductive health care, Harris County officials voted to approve a proposed fund to go to Harris County Public Health and smaller community organizations at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.
The Reproductive Health Care Access Fund passed on a 4 to 1 vote, with Republican Commissioner Tom Ramsey at odds with his Democratic colleagues.
This fund will allocate $6 million in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan to help Harris County Public Health and its partner organizations provide reproductive care—including contraception, family planning education, preconception health screenings, and STI testing and treatment—at a minimum of 20,000 inhabitants, said county judge Lina Hidalgo.
It will not include abortion funding or related pregnancy termination services, as Texas has a total ban on abortion even in cases of rape or incest, allowing it only if the continuation of the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.
The total amount will be divided into three parts, with $1.1 million going to expansions for Harris County Public Health’s services, $4.2 million to fund care at the partner organizations, and the remaining $700,000 to operating expenses for these the partner organizations and the county’s health institutions.
This fund is a response to Hidalgo’s resolution passed last year following the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and made abortion illegal in most states, said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who accompanied Hidalgo at a news conference that was held on Monday at Planned. Parenthood Gulf Coast Headquarters.
“There’s only so much we can do to stop these draconian, dangerous laws,” Ellis said. “But we can use the resources and power we have in Harris County to ensure that citizens have access to the health care they need to make decisions about their health, their families and their futures. That’s what this fund will do.”
Ellis said instead of working to ensure that health care is available to the community; Texas politicians have worked to cut funding to clinics and other organizations, going so far as to propose lawsuits against them.
This degradation of reproductive health services has forced 12 of the 23 clinics in the state to close their doors permanently.
According to Hidalgo, this puts Texans in a vulnerable position where not only do women not have access to reproductive health care, but they are also blocked from receiving primary care—since these clinics are often the only source of affordable general health care, Hidalgo said.
And patients in Texas are already facing a health crisis, as the state has one of the highest populations of uninsured people with over 18.4 percent without insurance, according to US Census data.
“Sometimes these organizations – the ones that are deep in the community, the ones that are in areas where there are a lot of people who really need these services because they otherwise can’t afford them – these organizations are very small and don’t have the funding to meet the need that is out there,” said Hidalgo.
Harris County plans to select at least 20 community organizations to partner with; using zip codes that correspond to places that have higher populations of uninsured residents to ensure that facilities in those areas are prioritized for the federal dollars, Hidalgo said.
The funding will have a “phased rollout,” as Harris County Public Health will have immediate access to its share of funds to begin expanding reproductive health services at its four Houston-area clinics, and the other facilities will receive and use the award in June of this year.