AUSTIN, Texas – Two state health researchers in Texas are under fire for co-authoring a study suggesting what Republican leaders have long disputed: cuts to Planned Parenthood are restricting access to women's health care.
Texas Health Commissioner Chris Traylor has not said whether the researchers, one a high-level director with more than 20 years in state government, will be disciplined. But a spokesman made it clear that the agency agrees with outraged Republicans over the researchers' contributions to a study that the GOP sees as flawed and biased.
The study was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prominent medical journals in the nation. It found that fewer women in Texas have obtained long-acting birth control, such as intrauterine devices, after the GOP-controlled Legislature booted the nation's largest abortion provider from a state women's health program in 2013. Births paid for under Medicaid also increased among some women.
Powerful Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson dismissed the findings as invalid, in part because the research was funded by the nonprofit Susan T. Buffet Foundation, which is a major supporter of Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups.
She also questions why two state health employees were among the study's five co-authors.
"It's one thing for an agency to provide data upon request. It's quite another to be listed as a 'co-author' on a deeply flawed and highly political report," said Nelson, an architect of Texas' current women's health program. "I've communicated strong concerns to the agency. This should not have happened, and we need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Texas Health and Human Services spokesman Bryan Black said the agency "completely agrees" with Nelson and that the agency didn't know of the study until it was published.
He did not comment on whether action will be taken against the researchers — Rick Allgeyer, the director of research and an influential decision-maker in the sprawling 55,000-employee agency, and Imelda Flores-Vazquez, who joined the agency in 2014 and is a program specialist, according to a LinkedIn page.
She and Allgeyer have not returned phone messages and emails seeking comment. The study used data from the Health and Human Services agency, where the researchers work, though the extent of their role in the study is unclear.
Peter Schenkkan, an Austin attorney and one of the study's authors, said he is disappointed that anyone would deem the contributions inappropriate.
"The first step of a public official should be to face the facts. Not to punish those who bring the facts to them," said Schenkkan, who was lead counsel for Planned Parenthood in court over its exclusion from the state health program.
Planned Parenthood officials said the study showed the impact of "politically motivated" decisions.
"The truth hurts. Unfortunately for Texas officials, disliking a study doesn't make it not true," said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.
Flores-Vazquez and Allgeyer had their names on the top of the study, along with Schenkkan and two University of Texas researchers who are analyzing the impact of women's health laws passed by the Texas Legislature in recent years. School researchers say the Buffet Foundation plays no role in their work.
Joseph Potter, one of the university researchers and the senior author of the Planned Parenthood study, said in an email that he was not in a position to comment on reaction to the study.
Texas barred Planned Parenthood from state planning services the same year that then-Gov. Rick Perry signed tough abortion restrictions that shuttered clinics across the state. Those restrictions will go before the U.S. Supreme Court next month in a major abortion rights case that will likely impact similar measures adopted in other GOP-controlled states.