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House Democrats Target Alternatives to Abortion Program

As the Texas House prepares for a floor fight Tuesday over its budget, a flurry of amendments filed by Democrats seeks to defund the state's Alternatives to Abortion program.

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As the Texas House prepares for a floor fight Tuesday over its budget, a flurry of amendments filed by Democrats seeks to defund the state's Alternatives to Abortion program.

A group of Democratic lawmakers filed more than a dozen amendments to either reduce or eliminate funding for the program, which provides "pregnancy and parenting information” to low-income women. Under the program, the state contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit charity organization with a network of crisis pregnancy resource centers that provide counseling and adoption assistance.

Since September 2006, the program has served roughly 110,000 clients. The network features 60 provider locations, including crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies. 

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said she filed an amendment to defund the entire program because the state is giving more money to “coerce women” into a “political ideology instead of providing information and services” at a time when Texas women’s access to health services is being reduced.

The proposed House budget allocates $9.15 million a year to the program in 2016 and 2017 — up from $5.15 million in the last budget.

“I think it's troublesome that here we are going to almost double funding for a program that has not proven to be successful in any way,” said Farrar, chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus in the House. An additional amendment by Farrar would require an audit of the program.

Several House Democrats filed similar amendments, including Borris Miles of Houston, Celia Israel of Austin and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, whose amendments would transfer more than $8 million from the Alternatives to Abortion program to family planning services and programs for people with disabilities.

“These facilities have very little regulation, no accountability and no requirement to offer actual medical services,” Turner said, adding that funding could be used for other medical programs. "My amendments are an attempt to address our state's real priorities and needs."

Two Republicans, meanwhile, filed measures to boost the program’s funding.

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, authored an amendment that would supplement the Alternatives to Abortion program with $3.35 million per year, funded by a cut to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. In a budget subcommittee, Hughes sought to increase the program's funding by nearly $15 million in the two-year budget, but that measure failed.

A separate amendment from state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, would boost the program’s funding by $3.35 million per year by cutting funding from a film and music marketing program in the governor’s office — a move he hopes will help the Alternatives to Abortion program extend into East and South Texas.

"They've done a good job with what we’ve given over the last 10 years," Phelan said. "I think whatever increase we can give them is well-warranted."

State Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, filed an amendment that would rename the program to Pregnancy and Parenting Services, which he said would defuse any controversy surrounding the program.

"There are individuals who seem to dislike the program, which I think is disappointing, because the program really isn’t about abortion rights or abortion restrictions," said Bonnen, a neurosurgeon. "I find it a little disheartening and disappointing that anyone would want to take resources away from pregnant women or newborn children."

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Health care Politics State government 84th Legislative Session Abortion State agencies Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature