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While Cutting Family Planning Funds, Texas Lawmakers Divert Millions To Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

By the state’s own calculations, the cuts are expected to cause an extra 24,000 unplanned births for women living in poverty over the next two years. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates the burden on taxpayers through Medicaid infant care will cost $136 million. While legislators managed to restore $60 million in women’s health funding through the primary care program this past legislative session, reproductive health leaders are skeptical that will trickle back to specialized women’s health providers.

To get a sense of the Legislature’s decline in support for women’ health, in the five years before the Alternatives to Abortion program was created, family planning funding hovered between about $65-$80 million a year. After its inclusion in the state budget, those funds did not edge past $55 million. As birth control and other contraceptive methods to prevent unplanned pregnancies were washed away in the wave of shuttered clinics, some legislators point to the irony in subsidizing organizations that are ideologically opposed to birth control and often offer abstinence-only education, lending nothing in the way of unexpected pregnancy prevention.

“It’s very disheartening that our state is investing more money in crisis pregnancy centers while cutting back in other strategies we know make the difference in actually preventing unplanned pregnancies,” state Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) said from his district office.

Villarreal and other Democrats suggested legislation meant to prevent unplanned pregnancy, like sex education funding, and restoring family planning dollars, during the floor debate on House Bill 2, Texas’ new anti-abortion law that is expected to further weaken the women’s heath care safety net.

A GOP majority sunk all Democratic-led amendments, giving Villarreal and others pause in believing those Republicans’ ostensible objective of reducing unplanned pregnancy. The opportunity for consensus has diminished in the past couple of election cycles, says Villarreal.

“Since 2010 we’ve seen less flexibility on the Republicans’ part to collaborate on women’s health issues. If anything, we’ve seen the party become much more extreme in effectively making women’s choice illegal,” he said.

Instead of oversight directly from the state’s health commission, the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, an anti-abortion nonprofit, is in charge of monitoring and disbursing state funds to Texas’ more than 40 crisis pregnancy and maternity centers.

TPCN has come under scrutiny for inefficiencies and wastefulness. A report by reproductive rights advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice Texas shows TPCN failed to meet its own benchmarks, falling 35 percent short of its projected, self-identified goals in its first two years and overestimating its budget needs by $500,000 in 2010 while creating no new social services. The subcontractor also uses state money to purchase materials produced by religious organizations or available free from other sources, the report indicates.

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