One year after Planned Parenthood made its return to the borderland, the group is having to navigate losses in federal and state funding and partnerships while still providing reproductive health care for El Pasoans and the surrounding communities.
El Paso’s Planned Parenthood at 1511 E. Missouri is the only Planned Parenthood in West Texas. The next closest clinic is in San Antonio.
In the past year, the clinic has received patients from 12 ZIP codes and rural communities surrounding El Paso, places that often have limited resources for health care.
Ken Lambrecht, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said the region felt the absence of Planned Parenthood, which had been closed for nine years before re-opening in October 2018.
“During its absence, we recognized that El Paso was the largest city in the country without a Planned Parenthood,” Lambrecht said. “It was a significant priority for our organization to re-open.”
In the year Planned Parenthood has been open in El Paso, the clinic has seen more than 1,600 patients, with the majority seeking services related to sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, birth control and preventive screenings for things like breast and cervical cancer.
Planned Parenthood provides a broad spectrum of services related to reproductive health care, including abortion. Abortions made up less than 1% of all patients the El Paso Planned Parenthood saw in the past year.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar was in El Paso earlier this month to help Planned Parenthood celebrate its one-year return to El Paso. She said the services provided by Planned Parenthood are critical for a healthy population, especially in vulnerable communities.
“What we’re seeing at the federal level is an erosion of funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood, and an erosion of laws that protect women in particular,” Escobar said. “It’s times like these where we really have to rally and support organizations that help support the community.”
Because of limited reproductive health care resources in El Paso, some patients seek care in other locations, including a clinic in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
El Pasoans seeking access to reproductive health care, including abortion, often have to go through physical and cultural barriers to do so in the borderland. Some patients may not be able to pay or may have limited or skewed information about what’s available to them. Others may be surrounded by a culturally conservative environment that makes it more difficult to seek assistance.
And there are also efforts at nearly all levels of government trying to further limit access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
In August, Planned Parenthood was shut out of federal funding and resources for the clinic.
The group opted to leave the Title X program, also known as the family planning program, because a new rule from the Trump administration that said any organization that provides abortion referrals or services could not be receive the funding.
“Planned Parenthood in other states turned away Title X because we recognize that women need to have full information about what’s medically available and scientifically accurate information without judgment,” Lambrecht said. “We trust women to make a decision that fits with their lives.”
In Texas, Senate Bill 22, which went into effect in September, also limits who can work with Planned Parenthood.
“This is a taxpayer protection bill,” state Rep. Candy Noble, R-Allen, told The Texas Tribune in May. “Taxpayers who oppose abortion should not have to see their tax dollars subsidizing the abortion industry.”
Under the new law, local and state entities, including counties, school districts and city governments, are barred from working with Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortions.
For example, Lambrecht said, Planned Parenthood can no longer partner with El Paso County to receive free condoms for health clinics. And Planned Parenthood can no longer work with Texas public school districts to help formulate sex education curriculum for high school students.
“The state of Texas would prefer that women get inaccurate or incomplete information about reproductive health,” Lambrecht said. “The state has turned its back on women, in my opinion, and continues to do so.”
Lambrecht said he believes the policies that limit access to reproductive health care have the potential to deter businesses from moving or setting up their operations in Texas. He said as more millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce, they expect access to reproductive health care.
“I think businesses recognize that the increasing workforce has these values, that even if they don’t share them, they recognize the importance of them,” Lambrecht said. “I do believe businesses will think twice about coming into the state of Texas if they continue the attacks on social issues and access to comprehensive reproductive health care.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105.