The Austin Chronicle

Brutal Budget Amendments Target Family Planning Funds

By Jordan Smith, April 1, 2011, 3:27pm, Newsdesk

Lawmakers in the House are now debating amendments to House Bill 1, that chamber's budget bill. And, at present, lawmakers are considering amendments to Article II, health and human services funding – including amendments that cut services for family planning and preventative health services for women, children and families.

So far, members have voted overwhelmingly to pull millions – at this writing we're up to about $30 million – away from federal title funds currently designated in the state budget as family planning funds. These funds support public health entities as well as the dreaded Planned Parenthood, the scourge of many conservatives who equate the provider largely of preventative health services with abortion, which makes up just a small percentage of services.

So far, lawmakers have voted to move millions from these programs – which include providing cancer screenings and birth control to low-income women – into other, also certainly needy programs, including mental health care for children. The decision to move those funds has rankled a number of lawmakers who suggest that pulling funding from one needed area to fund another without tapping the Rainy Day Fund to help close some of these gaps is, frankly, despicable. "I will not be put in the position of taking from one need and putting it to another when we're underfunding them both," Rep. Sylvester Turner said during an impassioned speech from the floor. "It is not good policy."

Of course, among the amendments seeking to move money away from reducing unplanned pregnancies are those that are nakedly political in nature: Consider the amendment by Pearland GOP Rep. Randy Weber, who successfully fielded his proposal to move from family planning more than $8 million over the biennium into the Alternatives to Abortion program, which provides state funding for crisis pregnancy centers – unregulated entities that provide counseling and referrals to other government programs for pregnant women but, notably, provide no actual health care. Weber suggested that the Alts to Abortion program (created by a rider from Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, in 2005 – which has received budget increases each subsequent session) is actually more cost effective than family planning. He said that his numbers show that clients served by the CPCs cost the state less than those seen by family planning providers. What he failed to mention, of course, is that family planning providers actually provide medical services – including pap smears and cancers screenings, for low-income, uninsured women, along with birth control, which generally helps to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

An exasperated Rep. Mike Villareal, D-San Antonio, asked Weber about how it could be that his amendment makes any sense: Taking money from programs that seek to prevent unplanned pregnancies and moving that money to "a type of organization [that] counsels women who are pregnant already. … Isn't that counterproductive?"

Apparently not to Weber, who said that CPCs actually serve a lot of the same low-income women who would be using the family planning money. So, in other words, it's a lateral move as far as Weber sees it.

Ironically, if you look at the Alts to Abortion program, that is hardly the case. Indeed, just today NARAL Pro-Choice Texas released its latest report on the Alts to Abortion program. It is not a pretty picture. The program, administered by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, has "absorbed millions of dollars to cover its own administrative and overhead costs," reads the report, and has consistently failed to meet its self-set goals for the number of clients it would serve – in 2010, it was off by 20%, according to the report. A full 70% of the centers funded by the Alts to Abortion program are "unlicensed, non-medical 'counseling' centers with no confidentiality requirements or oversight," reads the report. And, despite requirements that the centers, often associated with religious organizations, separate their state-funded services from any religious promotion, a 2009 NARAL investigation found that 67% of the centers their investigators visited "offered the investigator either prayer or religious counseling," a circumstance that the San Antonio Express-News found during an investigation of its own earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the debate continues. You can watch here – if you dare.

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