Planned Parenthood came to Dallas in 1935 covertly, hidden inside a Ripley’s shirt box. Shirting empress Katherine Ripley would send empty boxes to New York, and when they came back filled with diaphragms, condoms, and informative pamphlets, she would distribute them to women in Dallas.
Even though birth control is now legal, safe and effective long-acting methods can still be difficult to actually get your hands on, especially if you are uninsured, especially if you are a woman, and especially if you live in Texas.
When the Boone Family Foundation and the Harold Simmons Foundation donated $2 million to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas in July, they ensured 1,000 disadvantaged women each year for the next three years free access to long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), and in doing so, offset the healthcare gap for uninsured women across Dallas, Houston, Austin, and Waco.
“Throughout Planned Parenthood’s history,” Sarah Wheat, chief external affairs officer for PPGT, said, “we’ve always had community leaders who have recognized the need [to step in].”
On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on June 27 that HB2, a state law designed to restrict access to abortions, was unconstitutional, this donation from prominent community leaders is “a very powerful, powerful statement,” board chair of PPGT Jolie Newman said.
“These foundations step forward not anonymously,” Newman said. “They put their names out there and they inspire others … to step forward too.”
The leaders of the two foundations, Cecilia Boone, and Lisa K. Simmons and Serena Simmons Connelly, respectively, have championed women’s health care for years. 45 percent of the Simmons foundation’s grants go to health and medical causes; Boone used to serve as a Planned Parenthood board chair.
“The damage done by HB2 is incalculable,” Boone said. “You can’t just reopen clinics. … and women with limited means will be the ones who suffer the most.”
Planned Parenthood offers low or no-cost health services based on income, for patients who are uninsured but don’t qualify for state or federal programs. At a private doctor or at a hospital, those same services – breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, fertility tests, sexual health tests, and long-acting reversible contraception – come with a huge cost burden, which often means low-income women will simply not have access to them.
Without insurance, an intrauterine device (one method of long-acting reversible contraception) can cost $1,000. That’s where private funding can fill gaps, “while we wait for the drug community to come up with less expensive options,” Boone said.
The grant was inspired by Colorado’s statewide private grant that, since 2009, has offered women free access to long-acting reversible contraception; the state has since seen the number of unwanted teen pregnancies and abortions drop by nearly half.
Boone says long-acting reversible contraception is a “solution for those who believe in the sanctity of childbirth,” since it helps prevent abortions.
But while donations can be a lifeline to get through public policy, she says they cannot replace it.
“There is not enough private philanthropy to make excellent healthcare available to every woman in Texas,” Betsy Healy, grants director at the Harold Simmons Foundation, said. “The problem is too big.”
During the HB2 years, Texas was a fountainhead for the battle against abortion in the U.S. and created a precedent for several other states to make abortion as good as illegal, by taking a series of stringent measures that caused more than half the Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas to close.
Despite the law’s overturn, which Planned Parenthood leadership sees as a hopeful sign, public policy in Texas is still written by politicians who are for the most part opposed to abortion, which is one of the services Planned Parenthood provides.
Since 2013, when HB2 was instated, the state has also dismantled its Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which was funded by the federal government, and replaced it with a new program paid by taxpayers from which Planned Parenthood is banned. Texas also dissolved a partnership with the state health department through which Planned Parenthood provided breast and cervical cancer screenings.
Healy said it’s important that philanthropy carry a message.
“We’re hoping to be part of generating a larger conversation about public health care access for women,” she said. “We want the community to see that you make a positive impact when you do this.”
It’s a message the donors are hoping lawmakers hear.