A majority of Texans – across racial, political, and religious lines – support access to family planning for women regardless of their ability to pay, and disapprove of the drastic cuts lawmakers made to the family planning budget in 2011 that left more than 127,000 women without access to reproductive health care.
Those are among the conclusions reached by two pollsters hired by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund to do research into Texans' attitudes about birth control, family planning services, and sex education. According to the poll of 604 registered voters, conducted by a team of one Democratic and one Republican pollster (Anna Greenberg and Bob Carpenter, respectively), 73% of all voters believe Texas should fund family planning services, including birth control, for low-income women. And a strong majority, 57%, said they oppose lawmakers' 2011 cuts to family planning, which stripped two-thirds of the roughly $100 million biennial budget to provide birth control, cancer screenings, and other vital reproductive and basic health services to low-income and uninsured women.
Greenberg and Carpenter said support for birth control and state-funded family planning is particularly high among women, as is disapproval of the 2011 budget cuts, and they found a significant gender gap – particularly among Republicans. For example, while 69% of Republican women said they support state-funded family planning, just 45% of GOP men agreed. "There was a big gender gap on many of these issues," said Carpenter, with Republican men polling "more to the right" of the women surveyed.
Overall, the voters polled also opposed efforts to let employers deny access to birth control (56%) and to emergency contraception (53%) based on religious or moral beliefs, and 56% of voters said that the state's family planning funds "must" offer a full range of birth control options. And an overwhelming 84% of those surveyed said they favor teaching high school students about contraception along with abstinence. "When you have numbers that high, and it's across the board, it's hard to find a demographic group that would not support that action," said Carpenter.
Indeed, the poll numbers may challenge conventional wisdom: 77% of Hispanics support state-funded family planning, including the provision of birth control, as do 70% of Catholics and 66% of born-again Christians. The numbers are so significant, Carpenter said, that politicians will ignore them at their own peril. "If I were a Texan, and I were a Texas Republican, I'd be very, very concerned about these Hispanic numbers," he said, because they counter the assumption that religious Hispanics have some natural allegiance to socially conservative views.
To Kathy Miller, TFN's president, the message of the poll is clear: Legislators would be smart to reconsider their cuts to family planning and should back off from playing politics with women's health. "More than just informative for policy makers and legislators in 2013 and beyond, it says that [pulling] family planning and birth control into the culture wars is a mistake," she said. "The pill is not fair game."
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