State health officials appear to have taken up Republicans’ ongoing fight against Planned Parenthood by adopting guidelines that prohibit abortion-affiliated groups from contracting with Texas to run abstinence education programs.
Officials at the Health and Human Services Commission recently added language to the requirements for groups applying for contracts under the state’s Abstinence Education Services program that would prohibit entities even loosely affiliated with abortion providers from receiving any funding. The move comes even though the state's elected lawmakers did not ask for it when they approved the budget earlier this year, and Planned Parenthood doesn't participate in the state's abstinence programs.
The new requirements — laid out in what’s known as a “request for proposals” — include language prohibiting any applicants that “affiliate with any entity that performs elective abortion procedures,” that are located within 1,000 feet of an abortion provider or affiliate, or whose name includes or is similar to the name of any abortion provider, affiliate “or any entity that engages in pro-abortion advocacy.”
That abortion-related language appears to be aimed at Planned Parenthood and was added Aug. 18, after Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor took the agency's helm. Previous guidelines under former commissioner Kyle Janek — dated June 5 — did not include the abortion-related language. That application was later canceled by the health commission.
“We see a clear legislative directive of shifting state resources away from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers,” agency spokesman Bryan Black said. “This recent [request for proposals] is a reflection of that policy."
The state’s Abstinence Education Program contracts with local groups to promote abstinence from sexual activities among youths and lower rates of teen pregnancy or births out of wedlock. The request for proposal indicates the state is looking to allocate about $3 million for the program in fiscal year 2016, with individual contracts capped at $300,000 each.
Asked about the contract changes, health commission spokesman Black said the agency was “taking our guidance from the Texas Legislature.”
The current state budget does not include any specific language prohibiting abortion-affiliated clinics from participating in the abstinence education program. But for years, Texas Republicans have worked to cut off any taxpayer funding from health providers even loosely affiliated with abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.
This year, lawmakers wrote a separate provision into the budget prohibiting clinics affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the joint state-federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which provides cancer screenings for poor, uninsured women in Texas.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature also nixed abortion affiliates, namely Planned Parenthood, from the joint state-federal Medicaid Women’s Health Program, costing the state a $9-to-$1 match from the federal government. That forced state health officials to re-launch the program as the state-financed Texas Women’s Health Program to keep Planned Parenthood out.
Providers that receive taxpayer dollars are prohibited from performing abortions. And Planned Parenthood affiliates do not participate in the abstinence education program, according to a spokeswoman for the organization.
The chief budget writers in each chamber, state Rep. John Otto, R-Daytona, and state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who sits on the House Appropriations committee, said there was no “clear directive” in the state budget for the agency to move forward with the language prohibiting abortion-affiliated groups from the program.
“I think it’s a slippery slope to take cues [from the Legislature] when they’re not specified,” Howard said. “That could work in all kinds of directions based on cues that any number of us in the Legislature might give. Without a specific directive, I don’t believe that’s a wise course of action.”
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.