Nearly 40 years after it first opened in Northgate, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan will be closing at the end of August, the organization announced Thursday.
Bryan's is one of three clinics Planned Parenthood said it will shutter. The two others, in Huntsville and Lufkin, do not offer abortion services and will also be closing at the end of next month. The closings were announced on the same day Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 2, which would've forced dozens of clinics like Bryan's to stop performing abortions, but Planned Parenthood representatives said that is not the reason for the closure.
Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said the closure had nothing to do with abortions and was, instead, a result of funding cuts to family services from the 2011 legislative session and the state's decision not to accept Women's Health Program coverage at Planned Parenthood.
"With each one of those cuts, we saw our client visits drop precipitously because the women relying on that funding simply didn't have the means to be able to pay out of pocket for their care," said Linton, who was at the 29th Street facility Thursday to discuss the closure with staff.
In 2011, lawmakers pushed for the Texas Women's Health Program, coverage created in 2005 to serve low-income women with contraception and family planning, not to be accepted at facilities such as Planned Parenthood where abortions were performed. State health providers already exclude abortion providers from health programs, and the move lost Texas a $9-to-$1 federal match on funding for the program.
Planned Parenthood said the loss of coverage is the reason for a steep decline in patients in the following years. The Bryan clinic has served 2,700 patients this year, but overall visits are down 49 percent. Two years ago, the clinic had 5,321 visits, but that number has decreased to 2,690.
The legislation had the same effect on the Huntsville and Lufkin clinics -- their visits are both down 56 percent.
Planned Parenthood representatives have said repeatedly that rural and low-income communities will be disproportionately affected by the loss in coverage. Brazos County's poverty rate for 2007 to 2011 was 29.7 percent, according to Census data, far above the state average of 17 percent.
Texas' uninsured rate has also been the highest in the nation for the past five years, with 28.8 percent of Texans lacking insurance, according to a March 2013 Gallup poll.
Lawmakers this year added $71 million to the Texas Women's Health Program, but Linton said Planned Parenthood had exhausted all resources to keep the clinic open.
Coupled with the cuts to the Texas Women's Health Program were massive cuts to family planning funding in 2011. The House and Senate in the last legislative session cut funding from $111 million to $38 million. The $73 million cut from its family planning budget was followed by the closing of clinics across the state.
"The closure of this health center, just like the 60 others that closed in the last two years in Texas, is a direct result of politicians making bad decisions for the state of Texas, and I think it's very tragic and extremely unfortunate," Linton said.
News of the Bryan clinic's closure was called both a victory and a travesty in the community, where it drew little attention over its first 23 years until administrators for the health clinic announced in 1997 that they planned to expand their services to include early-term abortions one day a week.
"I was in disbelief; I was thrilled; I was excited," said Bobby Reynoso, executive director of the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life, said of hearing about the planned closure.
The Coalition for Life began in response to the Bryan Planned Parenthood's decision to start providing abortions and drew national attention in its mission to end abortion services. Now that the clinic is closing, Reynoso said, the organization will focus on education.
"The future of the Coalition of Life is continued education, continue to share real options and let people know that abortion is not a solution, it only makes things worse, and we can do better," Reynoso said. "There is still going to be a need for women in crisis, and we can lean on crisis pregnancy centers and adoption agencies."
Linton said Planned Parenthood has been developing strategies for the past two years to keep the doors open at the health centers, including increasing fundraising, accessing other funding streams and implementing commercial insurance billing for private health insurance. However, she said, not enough women are able to access Planned Parenthood because they needed the public funding.
The three clinics employed a staff of 12, and 9 of them work at both the Bryan and Huntsville locations. Linton said the organization is working with the staff to find them other jobs and see if they may want to relocate to Houston, where there are some job openings.
Nancy Bertsch, a local obstetrician/gynecologist who does not perform abortions and who is a member of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coasts' board, said the nonprofit organization will work to help patients find another provider when they officially close at the end of August.
Planned Parenthood said 130,000 women are going without preventive health care because of clinic closures since 2011, and Bertsch criticized the state for not having a plan for serving areas where women have lost providers.
"This is going to lead to more unintended pregnancies, and more of a burden on this community," Bertsch said.
Rep. Kyle Kacal said the Texas Legislature is committed to ensuring health for Texas women and protecting them from low health and safety standards.
"While these facilities have chosen to close their doors, women in the Bryan-College Station area will continue to have access to health care programs through the three local hospitals and numerous clinics in the area," Kacal said in a statement.
Ann Hazen, who helped bring the clinic to the area to provide women's health exams and birth control, lamented the closure.
"I'm very aware of the number of women who are getting health care there and that they're not able to afford it at other places, and so I think this is a tragedy for women's health," Hazen said.
Many of those who use the service come from Texas A&M and Blinn.
Cadence King, class of '02, was diagnosed with cervical cancer here and relied on the Bryan Planned Parenthood for her treatments.
"I was a student, I had no insurance and that was the only place I could go," King said.
She said Planned Parenthood provided her cervical cancer treatment and procedures, and she continued to do her wellness exams and follow-ups with them even after she left A&M and got a full-time job with benefits because of the relationships she had developed with staff there.
She describes herself as pro-life but she said Planned Parenthood represents something important to her.
"Having that clinic means my parents did not have to sell their home to help me with my cancer treatment," King said. "I definitely would have had to drop out because I would not have been able to afford school. [The clinic's closing] is going to be really significant. If anyone falls into a circumstance like I did, they would have to drop out of school and move home."