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Family Planning Programs Face Steep Cuts, Elimination

The state's family planning budget is getting increasingly thin. Budget conferees appear poised to go with the cheapest possible option for offering minimal family planning services, and a Medicaid program that provides screenings and contraception is circling the drain.

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The state's family planning budget is getting increasingly thin. 

Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said Monday afternoon that budget negotiators will likely adopt a 2012-13 family planning budget that is "pretty close" to the House's proposal — $37 million for low-income women under the Department of State Health Services — compared to the $100 million proposed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, agree that the Medicaid Women's Health Program, operated under the Health and Human Services Commission with a 9 to 1 federal match, is likely dead.

Both pots of money are a casualty of GOP lawmakers' efforts to keep Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortions in some of its affiliate branches from getting state dollars for family planning. (No clinic that provides abortions may receive state or federal funds.) But Coleman and Deuell said it's something more: lawmakers' increasing desire to link contraception to abortion. 

"Apparently the anti-abortion movement has morphed into the anti-contraception movement," Deuell said.

Added Coleman: "The objective to end contraception funded by the state is another religious intrusion into the lives of individuals."  

In a May 12 email to supporters, Texas Right To Life's Elizabeth Graham said the organization only opposes methods of birth control that can cause abortion. "HOWEVER, women and teens should not be going to facilities that are also in the abortion business for these services," Graham wrote. "Furthermore, access to women's health services is available at over 300 clinics and offices across the state; these agencies are clean and not affiliated with the abortion industry." 

In early April, House lawmakers adopted several budget amendments to redirect more than $60 million in family planning dollars to other programs. The Senate version of the budget left the money largely intact. Family planning dollars, a lingering hold-out in budget negotiations, were notably absent from this morning's conference committee discussion. (The conferees are scheduled to vote on a final report on Thursday.) But on Monday afternoon, Ogden told reporters that conferees were leaning toward the House's slimmer numbers.  

“Really, the controversy is that lots of members think most of that money ends up at Planned Parenthood and is used to subsidize their abortion operation, so we end up going with the lower number in the House — I think we will," he said. "But I wouldn’t want to say because the members haven’t voted on it." 

Meanwhile, the Women's Health Program, which needs to be renewed by legislation in order to continue operating, appears to be circling the drain. Neither Deuell or Coleman, who are both carrying legislation to renew the program, have had any traction in their respective chambers, and Deuell said it's unlikely the measure can be added onto another bill as an amendment without killing the vehicle. The program funds cancer screenings and breast exams for financially needy women, much of it in Planned Parenthood clinics, and is a cost-saver; the Legislative Budget Board has recommended expanding it, not shuttering it.

If the program dies, Deuell said he expects to see more unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Though he does not care for Planned Parenthood — indeed, he has specifically targeted them in legislation seeking to renew HHSC's Women's Health Program — Deuell said he cares about women having access to birth control. He said Texas Right to Life has influenced lawmakers by issuing inaccurate reports indicating family planning doesn't reduce abortions or unwanted pregnancies. (Deuell a family physician, and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, were recently targeted by the group in a newsletter that compared them to Margaret Sanger, one of the nation's first advocates for birth control.) 

Texas Right to Life clearly sees it another way. "The first rule in war is to sever the enemy's supply line," Graham wrote in a recent newsletter. "The enemy in our culture war is the huge billion-dollar abortion industry."

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