Is "family planning" a euphemism for abortion? Many House Republicans seem to think so. In amendment after amendment during last weekend’s budget battle, they raided the Department of State Health Services' family planning money — which funds reproductive health services, but not abortions, for Texas’ poorest women — to divert money to other budget-whacked services, from autism to children’s mental health.
Some took a nuanced approach, saying they were simply prioritizing other programs — with the added benefit of sending far fewer state dollars to Planned Parenthood. Others were blatant, like Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who said his amendment would defund “the abortion industry.”
Their amendments put the pinch on moderate conservatives, who were forced to cast what they characterized as anti-abortion votes instead of preserving funding for a program with a large federal match and proven cost-savings. “It’s clearly stated in statute that there’s a ban on giving state money to abortion providers — the safeguards are there,” said Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston. “I’m absolutely worried these two terms [abortion and family planning] are becoming synonymous.”
Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, who got an amendment passed to move money from family planning to the state’s defunded autism program, said it’s not that he and other lawmakers don’t understand the difference between family planning and abortion — or the state and federal laws that require that no Medicaid dollars be used for abortion services. The real issue, he said, is that they don’t trust that clinics that offer family planning services — and Planned Parenthood in particular — are doing anything other than pushing women toward getting abortions. “Their interest is not in giving women options,” Christian said. “Their ultimate answer is, ‘The best we can do is an abortion.’”
Planned Parenthood, which provides 40 percent of the family planning services provided by the Health and Human Services Commission's Women’s Health Program, has called statements like these outrageous, and says its clinics provide a laundry list of services designed to keep women safe and healthy — and to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place. “Family planning is good fiscal and public health policy that keeps Texas families healthy and helps reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion,” Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Texas, said in a statement. “Legislators need to look at the facts.”
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Republicans throw around the word abortion in the House chamber because it’s “visceral, it’s the ultimate red herring, it’s sure to get everyone’s attention.” When abortion’s not on the docket, he said, family planning is the next best target. “For representatives who are hell-bent on their pro-life view,” he said, “they’ll look for anything in the ballpark.”
The state's family planning programs give low-income women access to a variety of services, from well-woman exams to cancer and cholesterol screenings. They also provide birth control — an effort to prevent costly unplanned pregnancies. Planned Parenthood is a key piece of the equation. Since 2007, 40 of the organization’s Texas clinics have received a combined $17.6 million from the state, according to the Health and Human Services Commission. By law, no clinic that participates in state family planning services, including the Women's Health Program, may provide or promote abortion services.
Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton and the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that handles health funding, said before the House debated the budget that the family planning program was funded at $99 million for the next biennium, already a roughly 20 percent cut from the current biennium. Over the course of several amendments, that funding was cut another 60 percent, leaving $38 million in the program.
For Zerwas, an anesthesiologist and former hospital administrator, the amendments presented an awkward balance. He’s fiscally conservative and supports preventative medicine. He knows how much unplanned pregnancies cost Medicaid. But at the end of the day, he’s also staunchly anti-abortion.
“There are important women’s health services that are provided here, many of which are very cost effective,” Zerwas said. “But when it comes down to it, these votes were about political philosophy, and I voted in favor of moving the money.”
Still, he said, any comments by his colleagues equating family planning with the abortion industry are “totally inappropriate.”
The efforts to defund family planning in the House may not stand; Senate lawmakers have expressed their opposition to gutting family planning dollars, though they too are mulling ways to keep Planned Parenthood out of it. Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, a family physician and ardent opponent of Planned Parenthood, said lawmakers in that chamber are considering requiring family planning providers to offer “comprehensive” health services above and beyond reproductive health, something he says only federally qualified health centers or public health clinics could reasonably do.
“The fiscal issue is how to spend family planning money in a way that reaches the most people,” Deuell said. “The political issue is how not to fund Planned Parenthood.”