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After Backlash From Voters, Texas Lawmakers Work To Reverse Cuts To Women’s Health Programs

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"After Backlash From Voters, Texas Lawmakers Work To Reverse Cuts To Women’s Health Programs"

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For more than a year, Texas lawmakers have been on a crusade against Planned Parenthood that has resulted in deep cuts to family planning services that thousands of women rely on. But, particularly after the state’s health department projected a sharp rise in unintended births as a direct result of the budget cuts, Texas Republicans are finally starting to regret that move. In an attempt to appease the voters who have attacked them for undermining low-income women’s preventative health resources, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now quietly working to restore the family planning funding they slashed.

As the Texas Tribune reports, the Democrats and Republicans in the state have struck an uneasy balance. Democrats have promised to stop fighting to restore state funding to Planned Parenthood, while Republicans have pledged to stop imposing additional barriers to women’s health care access:

“The major difference is we’re not fighting about it, we’re just doing what’s right for women and the state,” state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, said last month at a Texas Tribune symposium on health care.

There has not been a drawn-out public debate on abortion or women’s health in either chamber this legislative session. None of the 24 abortion-related bills filed have reached the House or Senate floor. And Davis, the only Republican member of the House Women’s Health Caucus, brokered a bipartisan “grand bargain,” as lawmakers refer to it, to prevent amendments to the House budget bill that could have jeopardized an agreement to restore women’s health dollars.

For some Republicans, this bargain hinged on the ballot box: Davis said several of her colleagues faced blistering attacks after last session’s family planning cuts — an effort, in part, to drive Planned Parenthood out of business — shuttered clinics in their districts that were not affiliated with abortion providers.

Davis told the Texas Tribune that she is committed to providing adequate resources for family planning services for low-income women, and the best way to get that done is to “remove emotion” from the legislative process. According to Davis, the recent arguments about abortion and Planned Parenthood that fueled the legislature’s decision to slash those resources “did not advance the ball,” but rather “threw family planning into a tailspin.”

She’s right. Since the state cut its family planning budget by two-thirds, 53 family planning clinics have been forced to close their doors and an estimated 144,000 fewer women have received preventative health care. So now, in the state’s tentative 2014-15 budget, lawmakers are considering devoting even more money for women’s health services than the state was allocating to that area before the 2011 budget cuts.

But, in order to get Republicans on board, that funding is still being strictly designated to clinics that don’t provide abortion services. Texas legislators may be coming around on some aspects of women’s health, but fights over abortion continue to simmer under the surface. Gov. Rick Perry (R) — who has maintained that outlawing all abortion is his ultimate “goal” — has thrown his weight behind a 20-week abortion ban, and lawmakers are considering a measure that could force some abortion clinics in the state to close. Although lawmakers are finally realizing that low-income women have the right to accessible birth control and family planning counseling, they’re not concerned about those same women’s access to affordable abortion care.

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