During each legislative session, the Texas House and Senate make difficult choices about how to spend the people's money. In developing a two-year budget for the state, we must decide which programs to fund and at what level of funding, and we are presented with many worthy programs from which to choose.
The current budget cycle has been tougher than usual, as Texas is facing the most serious budget shortfall in recent memory. There is not enough money to meet all of our needs, so it is even more important that the Legislature follow Jefferson's admonition to be wise and frugal.
The budget debate invariably turns to the question of taxpayer funding of abortions, and in Texas we have consistently answered no. The pro-life/pro-choice question is one of the most difficult and divisive matters to come before us, and public opinion polls and our own experience tell us that Texans have strong and varied feelings on the issue. But poll after poll has consistently shown that a significant majority do not want public funds used to pay for abortions.
Some states do appropriate government funds to pay for abortions. And, not surprisingly, in those states the number of abortions has continued to rise — even as it has declined nationwide.
Given our state's strong position against taxpayer-funded abortion, many members of the Legislature have been dismayed to see Planned Parenthood and similar groups consistently receive tens of millions of dollars in the state budget. How can Planned Parenthood — the largest provider of abortions in America — receive state money? This takes place under the guise of family planning services.
Advocates for government family planning funds will strongly protest that they're not used for "abortion care." But the shell game is not hard to figure out. For every dollar Planned Parenthood receives in taxpayer money, a dollar of Planned Parenthood's unrestricted funds are freed up to pay for abortions. Planned Parenthood's annual report shows income of over $1 billion, with $363 million from government grants and contracts.
At a time when we are scouring the budget and questioning every expenditure, when funding for even essential services like public education must be reduced, it is time to stop subsidizing Planned Parenthood.
In the House of Representatives we made two significant corrections. First, we redirected some of the family planning funds to other important programs. For example, we voted to move $6.6 million from family planning to services for children with autism. Autism funding had been severely cut, and we felt strongly that these children needed our help. We also moved almost $2 million from family planning and put it back into the state's program to help those who are deaf and blind, another very important program which had also been cut.
All told, we transferred approximately $60 million from family planning services into other areas of the human services budget that had previously been reduced. And since some of these funds come from Washington, we were careful to comply with all of the federal rules and regulations regarding use of this money. Even after all of these redirections, more than $100 million still remains in the budget for family planning services.
The second significant correction we made should ensure that this family planning money is spent in the wisest and most effective way. The funds are intended to help low-income women who often do not have access to health care. A woman seeking family planning help may also need other health care services, and groups like Planned Parenthood cannot offer her much. A woman needing additional health care would then have to be referred to another provider, making it less likely that she actually receives the care she needs and increasing the cost to the taxpayers. The budget rules provide that the family planning funds go first to those providers that can provide women with family planning services as well as comprehensive health care. There are hundreds of these providers across the state, and they are not affiliated with the abortion industry.
We know that people are hurting in this economy. We are each having to sacrifice as we get through this difficult time. The changes made in this budget will help us make sure that our limited taxpayer resources are going to those who need it most.
With its own budget of over a billion dollars, Planned Parenthood does not need our help.
State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, served on the House Human Services Committee during the 82nd legislative session.
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