It’s a Rainy Day in Texas for Women and Children

Texas lawmakers are spending warm Texas weekends deciding whether autistic kids or poor women deserve more resources, while they pay crisis pregnancy counselors more than registered nurses.

Over the first weekend in April, the Texas House of Representatives was hard at work—they even came in on Sunday!—deciding which Texans are the most important Texans when it comes to education, health care and social services. Because the budget is complex, it’s hard to say who legislators love best, but it’s clear who they love least: women and families who benefit from the state’s $100 million in family planning funds, which the House slashed by 66 percent in its budget proposal, redirecting that money, in part, to crisis pregnancy centers that provide no medical care whatsoever.

You’ve probably heard the state is currently in the midst of a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, which conservative legislators have refused to assuage by tapping into the state’s rainy day fund or raising taxes. Instead, they’re spending warm Texas weekends deciding whether, say, autistic kids or poor women deserve more resources.
During the House budget debate, Houston’s Rep. Sylvester Turner told the floor: “I will not be caught trying to decide whether to fund child one or child two.”

But Sylvester and his fellow Democrats have little choice—the belt-tightening conservative opposition refuses to seek alternative forms of income, and they’re taking full advantage of the opportunity to direct funds away from family planning centers in Texas.

“Many of the votes that members were forced to take was, ‘Which Texan do you prefer over another Texan? Do you want to fund seniors or children?’” said Planned Parenthood of North Texas Director of Public Affairs Kelly Hart, who went on to wonder, “Why are we making these choices to rob Peter to pay Paul?”

Mirroring debates over family planning funding at the federal level, Texas conservatives have used the state budget as an opportunity to wage a culture war rather than engage in fiscal responsibility. It’s the only way to explain amendments like the one proposed by Pearland Rep. Randy Weber, which transfers about $7 million over the next two years from family planning—funds used to keep afloat places like Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide reproductive health services like pap smears, breast exams and contraception to low-income, uninsured women—to the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a non-profit group of mostly Christian-based counseling services that operate maternity homes and adoption centers. Weber’s amendment passed easily.

But the TPCN has a dubious history and is wholly unregulated, unlike medical centers that operate with family planning dollars, which undergo regular audits and are subject to state regulation. As for fiscal responsibility, the Austin Chronicle has found that TPCN members spend about $450 on every woman who uses their solely non-medical counseling services, whereas family planning providers spend about $174 per woman, which includes both medical care and pregnancy counseling. A detailed investigation by the American Independent also found questionable billing practices, including an estimated $126,000 per year charge to the state per pregnancy counselor by the TPCN—for an un-degreed, un-licensed position making about twice the salary of a registered nurse.

Rep. Weber’s chief of staff, Chara McMichaels, assured Rewire that the TPCN is “not a religious group” and they’re “prohibited from doing the religious stuff.”

But a search on the TPCN website for affiliates in the Dallas area brought up centers sponsored by the Catholic Charities of Dallas and the Family Care Connection, which includes a statement of faith in Jesus Christ on its “About Us” page. TPCN also buys informational materials from religious groups according to a March 2011 study released by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

Planned Parenthood estimates that if these cuts to family planning are upheld—the conservative Texas Senate will also soon debate its version of the state budget—about 265,000 women in Texas could be denied reproductive health care. “Family planning in Texas is definitely in jeopardy,” said Kelly Hart, but instead of arguing about which Texans deserve health care in a budget crunch, “this conversation should be about looking at other revenue streams.” Like, for example, the state’s $6 billion “rainy day” fund, that could be tapped to keep social services and education and health care resources funded in the state.

“I think most Texans would agree it’s raining,” said Hart.