AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — The Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner defended a state contract related to women’s health Monday, as critics questioned the choice.

A revamped women’s health program in Texas that ousted Planned Parenthood is giving a $1.6 million state contract to the nonprofit of an anti-abortion activist, who state officials said submitted a “robust” proposal for helping low-income women in rural areas.

The Heidi Group’s Carol Everett has been a visible abortion opponent at the Texas Legislature. She supported two major anti-abortion restrictions the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in June, and last year, Republican lawmakers incensed by undercover video taken of Planned Parenthood operations and staffers invited her to discuss abortion clinics.

“If the state hadn’t eliminated the most well-known and trusted reproductive healthcare provider, Planned Parenthood, from the program in 2011 there would be no need to spend $1.6 million of taxpayer money for outreach,” Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said in a news conference Monday. “But once again, politicians put politics ahead of women’s health.” Miller was flanked by Texas Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and others opposing the state’s award.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, center, questioning funding for Heidi's Group. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

“We want the truth about the crisis the state has created about women’s health and the truth about the Heidi Group to be told,” said Miller.

Later Monday, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Charles Smith spoke in front of the House State Affairs Committee about contracting.

“[The Heidi Group] is serving as the entity to pull together physician groups around the state, in 60 plus counties and more than 20 clinic locations,” Smith said to reporters after appearing at the hearing. “So, the clinicians are going to be the actual ones who are going to be providing the day-to-day services.”

Smith says services will include things such as breast and cervical cancer screening, as well as family planning services.

Everett said her state contract-a first for the Heidi Group-begins in September and is about filling gaps, not about ideology. She said her services will connect women in more than 40 rural counties with providers.

“I did not see quality health care offered to women in rural areas,” Everett said.

Smith responded to a question about any possible political motivations for the decision saying that he stands behind the staff who handle contracting for the state.

“Our goal throughout Healthy Texas Women is making sure woman receive the health care services that they are due,” said Smith. “We take that extremely seriously. So, we will monitor this contract as well as any other contract we have to ensure that those women are receiving the full array of services that are required.”

The Healthy Texas Women program, unveiled last month, absorbs an old program that ousted Planned Parenthood in 2011 at the behest of lawmakers.

Texas began paying for its own women’s health initiatives after the federal government said excluding Planned Parenthood – an approved provider – was against the law and halted federal funding for women’s care statewide. The push to defund Planned Parenthood was part of a larger, years-long anti-abortion effort by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Heidi Group contract is the second-largest state health officials have given so far under its new Healthy Texas Women program; $1.7 million was given to Houston’s Harris County.