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25th Anniversary Issue

Current 25: Decades of anti-abortion sentiment boil over in attacks on women's health

2006-2011

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Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, said events this session were merely a continuation of the long-simmering war over abortion. What began with conservative groups like Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 eventually prompted Supreme Court rulings in the late ’80s and early ’90s that left states open to impose their own abortion restrictions, effectively pushing the debate to state capitols.

In 2003, Texas conservatives began trying to put the squeeze on abortion providers by cutting their family-planning money, setting off a court battle that forced Planned Parenthood to separate its family planning providers from its abortion services providers.

“I feel like it was in 2003 that, for the first time [anti-abortion groups] said, ‘You know something? We’ve been unsuccessful at stopping y’all over the issue of abortion, so we’re going to start punishing you for providing abortions. And we’re going to punish you through your family-planning dollars,’” Hons said. “That’s when you start to see family planning become the whipping boy to punish people for providing abortion care,” a tactic that became abundantly clear this session.

As the session wound down, TRL and others continued to insist that any state money diverted to either family-planning initiatives or the state’s widely successful Women’s Health Program were “funding streams for the abortion industry,” conflating their hatred for abortion with a disgust for public programs that actually reduce demand for the procedure.

The WHP provides thousands of low-income and uninsured women basic reproductive health-care services and contraception across the state and is thought to have saved Texas more than $40 million in Medicaid-related costs in 2008 alone. Despite this, many conservative lawmakers this session were willing to let the program expire rather than allow Planned Parenthood’s continued participation. (Planned Parenthood serves roughly 40 percent of the women enrolled in WHP). Lawmakers couldn’t pass the bill reauthorizing the program, but a last-minute budget rider may still keep it afloat.

Unless it is renewed, roughly 120,000 low-income women will lose access to contraceptive care and basic health screenings. If the WHP manages to survive, the fight to exclude Planned Parenthood will likely continue.

“I mean, this session has made me feel like we are moving toward the dark ages,” Hons said. “This is the roughest [session] I’ve seen.”

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