May 4, 2011 — The Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services will consider legislation (SB 1854) that includes a provision that would eliminate funding for the state's Women's Health Program unless Planned Parenthood is barred from participating, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (Ingram, AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/29). The program provides birth control and preventive health screenings to uninsured women. It was established five years ago and needs the Legislature's approval to continue.
Current law prohibits state or federal dollars from paying for abortion care in Texas and "the Women's Health program is no exception," the Dallas Morning News reports. However, antiabortion-rights activists "believe that helping one part of Planned Parenthood aids the other," so the bill prohibits the state from contracting with Planned Parenthood because some Texas clinics provide abortion services with private funds. To ensure that Planned Parenthood providers cannot participate in the program, the bill includes a "poison pill" that essentially provides that if the bill becomes law and Planned Parenthood successfully sues to overturn it, the state program would be discontinued entirely. The Morning News reports that the program serves 100,000 women -- about 40% of whom are treated at Planned Parenthood -- and saves an estimated $20 million in annual Medicaid spending. The state receives $9 in federal money for every $1 it spends on the program.
Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Deuell (R) said the measure has bipartisan support. He noted that key Democrats have agreed to the bill as a means to keep the women's health program operating (Hoppe, Dallas Morning News, 4/30). According to the AP/Chronicle, it is "no secret" that Deuell has long desired to exclude Planned Parenthood from the program, and he concedes that he has tried to push funding toward other providers to wedge out those that provide abortion care (AP/Houston Chronicle, 4/29).
Sarah Wheat, director of public affairs for the Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capitol Region, said that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women and there are not enough providers to serve them. She called the bill "an unbelievably high-stakes approach," wherein women's health loses regardless of whether the organization receives funding. Ken Lambrecht, CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Texas, said the bill will lead to an increase in unintended pregnancies (Dallas Morning News, 4/30).
Texas Senate Approves Sonogram Bill
The Texas Senate on Monday passed legislation (HB 15) that would require a woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. Sen. Dan Patrick (R) called the bill "one of the strongest [antiabortion-rights measures] in the nation."
The bill states that a doctor must give a woman the option to view the sonogram and attempt to hear the heartbeat. If she opts out, the doctor must describe the image of the fetus, including any internal organs or limbs. The bill includes exemptions for survivors of rape or incest or if the fetus has fatal abnormalities. It also exempts women living more than 100 miles away from abortion clinics.
The bill passed the Senate 21-10 with two Democrats voting in favor of it. It moves now to the more conservative House, which likely will not pass the legislation with the exemptions. As a result, the bill is expected to go to conference committee, where the two chambers will attempt a compromise (Tomlinson, AP/Houston Chronicle, 5/2).