The Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers Might Not Like Planned Parenthood, But Voters Do

By Jordan Smith, May 16, 2011, 3:10pm, Newsdesk

Republican lawmakers might not like Planned Parenthood, or funding family-planning health services – but Texas voters do.

According to a recent poll commissioned by the nearly 100-year-old nonprofit, 56% of Texas voters support continued funding by the state family planning health care to low-income women in Texas. That, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said at a Capitol press conference last week, means that PP is actually more popular than either the Republican or Democratic party. A majority of the voters polled believe the state should continue to provide funding to Planned Parenthood to provide well-woman check ups (53%), cancer screenings (56%), screening and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections (56%), and birth control (59%) for low-income Texas women.

The poll also revealed that 57% of respondents believe that Planned Parenthood should remain a provider of services for women enrolled in the Women's Health Program, the successful Medicaid-waiver program that seeks to reduce Texas' Medicaid births – which in 2009 alone cost the state $2.9 billion. Certain lawmakers, led by Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, are seeking to keep PP from participating in the program; PP currently serves some 40% of WHP clients. Indeed, in a bill to reauthorize the WHP, Senate Bill 1854, Deuell has inserted a bomb: The state will forbid only PP from participating – and if PP sues successfully to keep that from happening, then the state will kill the program altogether. At best it is a questionable provision, and its inclusion in the bill (which is now tied up in the Senate) prompted PP to send a letter to Deuell and Senate Health and Human Services Committee chair, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to say that the threat wouldn't stop them from exercising their right to sue – even if the lawmakers are determined to thwart the group's right of due process. That letter is here.

In response, a list of Texas' pro-lifers sent their own letter to Deuell and Nelson, applauding them for trying to block PP from participation in the WHP and claiming that there will be no problem with access to services if PP is cut out of the program. This tracks along with the conservative and pro-lifers' assertion that cutting PP out of the family planning funding loop altogether would not present any problem for women seeking services, even though there is nothing concrete to suggest that is the case, especially if the state goes forward with the near elimination of funding for basic reproductive health services for women.

Indeed, whether there will actually be any money to fund family planning over the next biennium is still up in the air. As we reported in April, the House successfully amended its version of the budget to slash nearly $62 million of the funding set aside for family planning, sending most of it to other, also needy, programs, and leaving in place roughly $9 million per year to be allocated among the majority of reproductive health care providers. And, as we reported, that means hundreds of thousands of women would be left without access to the most basic health care – indeed, for the majority of women who access these services, this is their only regular and reliable access to basic health care. Meanwhile, in its version of the budget, the Senate left intact the entire family planning budgetsome $49.8 million for each of the next two years. Still, the Senate did adopt a rider to direct how that funding is allocated, it's attempt to defund PP, but placing it among the last group of providers to be funded – a rider that mirrors an amendment passed in the House. Obviously, the two chambers will have to come to some agreement on how much funding will ultimately be given to family planning services, but it's hard to imagine that this will happen before the end of this regular session. (Among those urging the House budget conferees to put money back into family planning are 12 Catholic reps who signed on to a letter drafted by Catholics for Choice. That letter is here.)

The two chambers will also have to agree on how much to allocate to the Alternatives to Abortion program, through which the state funds unlicensed and unregulated crisis pregnancy centers – groups that provide "counseling" and referrals to government programs for women facing unintended pregnancy, but, notably, provide no health care services whatsoever. The House budget zeroed out the funding for the program, which was created in 2005 and since then has had questionable impact – when the program failed to meet it's self-set goals, for example, the program administrators, with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, simply revised those goals. Although there are some 1.4 million Texas women in need of health services – a number that will certainly increase should the House cuts survive – instead of putting more toward health care access, lawmakers have increased the Alts to Abortion program's budget twice – from it's original $5 million biennial allocation up to $8 million in 2009 – and, believe it or not, the Senate is now proposing to up it again, to a total of $8.3 million over the biennium.

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