Family Planning Contracts Approved

Opponents decry board's contracts with abortion providers

The Central Health (formerly Travis County Healthcare District) board of directors voted unanimously Dec. 10 to approve $450,000 in contracts to provide abortion care to uninsured low-income women through the county's Medical Assistance Program. Hundreds of people attended the meeting, many to decry the notion that the county would use taxpayer money to support abortion.

The contracts are part of a large program of family planning and reproductive health services that the city of Austin has provided for low-income women since the 1970s. When voters created the health care district in 2004, the contracts for family planning services moved from the city to the county. Creating the district was a way to expand services, and that was the understanding of city officials as well, who were previously responsible for funding the three-decades-old women's health care program. "When the City of Austin transferred the MAP Women's Health Services contracts to the healthcare district in 2004, the voters understood that not only would the contractual services be continued, but expanded," Council Members Laura Mor­rison, Sheryl Cole, and Randi Shade wrote in a letter to the board's nine members. Indeed, City Council promised there would "not be a loss of services," Council Member Bill Spelman told the board. Speaking on behalf of the entire council, Spelman said the services should be continued, including "the option to get an abortion."

Spelman's remarks elicited a predictable chorus of boos from the dozens of anti-choice protesters who were among the more than 100 people lined up in the hallway outside the county commissioners' courtroom where the meeting was held. Several speakers noted that some 10,000 people had signed a petition in opposition to the funding, more than the roughly 5,500 votes by which voters approved creation of the health care district in 2004. Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, noted that if the contracts were approved, Travis County would become the only political entity in Texas spending taxpayer money to fund abortion, a service that many find morally objectionable. That may be true, said Spelman, but "we don't always agree with everything we pay taxes for."

In the end, the nine members approved continuing the contracts to provide services to women who fall below the poverty line. They also approved adding Planned Parent­hood as a third provider of services, along with Austin Women's Health Center and Whole Woman's Health of Austin. The contract renewals provide $450,000 for one year, with three renewal options. The MAP program provides women with counseling, family planning, pregnancy termination, and birth control. County officials said enrollment in the program has been growing and will soon reach 17,000.

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abortion, Central Health, Travis County Healthcare District

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