Analysis

Texas health official steps down amid controversy over flawed birth control study

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Abortion advocates championed a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine early this month, which purported to show the negative effects of Texas’s defunding of Planned Parenthood. Claims were made that Medicaid births increased 27 percent (refuted here), and researchers even claimed in media interviews that the reason for this was because women couldn’t easily get help from Planned Parenthood. But, as Live Action News’s Calvin Freiburger wrote in his critique of the shoddy research, this was nothing more than wishful thinking on the researchers’ part:

…[N]ot only do they not establish a causal link, they actually concede that the “vast majority” of birth control methods in use were unaffected by what is supposedly the most outrageously anti-choice state in the country (no wonder, because it’s actually widely available and affordable even without Planned Parenthood). Kind of buried the lead there, people.

Now, Texas health official Rick Allgeyer, who co-authored the study, has stepped down from his job as a direct result of the controversy.

Allgeyer, the now-former director of research at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, co-authored the study, along with Amanda J. Stevenson, M.A., Imelda M. Flores-Vazquez, Ph.D., Pete Schenkkan, J.D., and lead author, Joseph E. Potter, Ph.D. – a researcher from the University of Texas’s Population Research Center.

The authors state in their conclusions:

The exclusion of Planned Parenthood affiliates from a state-funded replacement for a Medicaid fee-for-service program in Texas was associated with adverse changes in the provision of contraception. For women using injectable contraceptives, there was a reduction in the rate of contraceptive continuation and an increase in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid. (Funded by the Susan T. Buffett Foundation.)

But the problem with their conclusion was apparent to even the Washington Post:

The study didn’t establish an explicit connection between the exclusion of Planned Parenthood clinics and the number of women no longer using contraception, or the increase in births — it’s possible that the women chose to get pregnant or were getting birth control outside the state-funded program.

The idea that increased births are bad is a problematic idea in and of itself; however, the most serious problem is that these authors had a clear bias and did not conduct proper research protocol in establishing their connections. One of the most basic rules of research is that correlation does not equal causation – a lesson that University of Texas researchers should know inside and out. Instead, it appears that the choice was made to disseminate propaganda to further a pro-abortion cause.

Joseph E. Potter (via utexas.edu)

Joseph E. Potter (via utexas.edu)

Lead author Joseph Potter said:

You’ve got a very strong signal that there was an impact of [the Texas exclusion of Planned Parenthood]. The thing about this study, it more or less contradicts the claim you can’t implement that policy at no cost, without hurting people.

Potter also told an NBC affiliate in no uncertain terms that Planned Parenthood’s defunding was a factor:

Whatever good efforts are being made, they weren’t enough to offset the impact of suddenly removing Planned Parenthood.

The thing about legitimate research is that one can’t make an absolute statement based on a “more or less” indication. The New England Journal of Medicine, which has published numerous valid studies, has somehow compromised itself in not vetting this biased study, and something like this does damage to the medical and research community as well.

Pete Schenkkan (gdhm.com)

Pete Schenkkan (gdhm.com)

Another of the study’s authors, Pete Schenkkan, was even an attorney for Planned Parenthood in Texas, as he stated on his disclosure form:

I served pro bono as lead counsel for Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates in three now-concluded court cases opposing their exclusion first from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program and then from the Texas Women’s Health Program
Likewise, other authors revealed they had personally testified against pulling funding from Planned Parenthood.
Another study co-author, Imelda Flores-Vazquez, works for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission like Allgeyer and remains employed. Her name was not mentioned by agency spokesman Bryan Black, who said, “Rick Allgeyer is eligible for retirement and has decided to retire from the Health and Human Services Commission.”  The Associated Press reports that Black added, “Allgeyer — who has worked in Texas government for more than 20 years — broke policy by working on the study on taxpayer time” and that “He should have never been putting in time on this study during the normal business day, he was paid to perform state business.”
But what about the validity of the study itself? The Statesman reports:

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has 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 questioned why two state health employees were among the co-authors.

Indeed, the fact that the study was funded by the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which is one of the largest financial supporters of Planned Parenthood in the nation, makes the conflict of interest obvious from the beginning. This leaves many to wonder why the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine would publish it, and why researchers from a world-class university would pass it off as a legitimate study showing causation.
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