The Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a three-year collaboration between researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and several other institutions to measure the impact of cuts to women’s health programs by the Texas Legislature in 2011, released a web app and database on Wednesday that catalogs the effects of the cuts at the local level.
"We put together this web app so people could see the direct impact of these cuts,” said Joseph Potter, the project's principal investigator and a professor of sociology at UT-Austin. “It was brought to our attention that people around the state had seen the global figures of what the cuts were, but people didn't necessarily see it at the local level, and legislators certainly weren’t seeing it at a local level."
The app combines information on women’s health across the state — including teen fertility rates, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and the number of women who might seek help with family planning — with the numbers of people who actually received help, and the number of local clinics receiving funding, in the 2010 and 2012 fiscal years. The app also aggregates information geographically, allowing the user to explore data from individual counties as well as state Senate and House districts.
In 2011, the Legislature, facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall, cut funding for family-planning services by more than two-thirds, from $111 million to $37.9 million. It also created a tiered system for state health clinics, where funding for clinics that provide comprehensive and primary care are prioritized over Tier 3 clinics, which only provide family-planning services.
As a result of the funding cuts, 56 out of 288 clinics that have received public funding to provide family planning have closed, and 61 no longer receive family-planning funding from the state, according to the researchers. The researchers also estimate Texas’ investment in family planning-services saved $163 million less in 2012 than in 2010, and averted 30,000 fewer unintended pregnancies.
Amanda Stevenson, a researcher with the project, said that other population studies suggest that for every 1,000 women provided with contraceptive help, 242 unintended pregnancies are prevented, allowing researchers to estimate the number of unintended pregnancies that happen as a result of a lack of access to family planning resources.
In addition, the researchers have found many clinics are now charging for services that were previously free, raising prices for other services and restricting access to more effective methods of contraception that are more expensive.
Potter said that by aggregating information geographically, the app aims to give Texans a better understanding of how women’s health cuts have affected specific communities around the state.
In Lubbock County, for example, a region hit particularly hard by the cuts, the number of unintended pregnancies prevented by funding provided by the Department of State Health Services was estimated to fall from 779 in 2010 to only 29 in 2012. Only one of Lubbock’s 3 DSHS-supported clinics is still operating with state funding in 2012.
In other parts of Texas, the effect of the cuts was less. In El Paso County, only 2 of the area’s 12 DSHS-funded clinics closed, and the number of unintended pregnancies prevented actually rose, from 742 to 880.
Potter said the researchers were just beginning to comb the data for regional patterns, but some basic trends were evident.
“I look forward to exploring that in the next couple of weeks. There are so many districts and counties to check out,” he said. “But rural counties were hit harder than more urban counties. Cuts were worse where there was only one clinic, of course, because in some cases there’s no clinic anymore.”
Stevenson said the need for services in the community didn’t appear to be a determining factor when it came to which clinics got the ax.
“The cuts are badly out of step with the number of women in need of contraception,” she said. “It’s certainly not the case that in places where there are low levels of need, the cuts were greater, and that in places where there were greater levels of need, the cuts were lesser.
The researchers said they would be expanding the data sets and improving the availability and depth of information as time went on, but emphasized that the current database — and its accessibility — represented an opportunity.
“We will be investigating this data extensively in the coming weeks,” Stevenson said.
Becca Aaronson contributed reporting.
*Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to state Texas' investment in family planning saved $163 million less in 2012 than 2010.