Texas Lawmakers Broker Quiet Agreement on Women's Health Funds

May 6, 2013 —Democrats and Republicans in the Texas Legislature are "quietly" working together to restore women's health funding, marking a sharp contrast from the "high-octane drama" over cuts to women's health services in recent years, the Texas Tribune/New York Times reports.

Bolstered by Republican gains in the 2010 election, the Legislature in 2011 cut the state's family planning budget by two-thirds in an effort to block funding to Planned Parenthood and other women's health clinics affiliated with abortion providers. Lawmakers also passed a law (HB 15) under which a woman seeking an abortion must undergo an ultrasound and hear a description of the fetus at least 24 hours beforehand.

In the wake of budget cuts, 56 of the 117 Texas family planning clinics that stopped receiving funding closed, according to University of Texas-Austin researchers who are conducting a three-year study to evaluate the impact of the changes. An estimated 144,000 fewer women received health services and 30,000 more unintended pregnancies occurred in 2012 compared with 2010, the researchers have found. Additionally, the state's savings from related programs dropped by an estimated $163 million.

Proposed 2014-2015 Budget

The proposed 2014-2015 budget -- currently in conference committee -- would boost funding to women's health services to levels higher than they were before the 2011 cuts. The House version of the budget would double family planning funds to $75 million, while the Senate version would increase the funding to $43 million. Further, both proposals would add $100 million to a state-run primary care program for women and dedicate $71 million for the Texas Women's Health Program, which lost federal funding after the state blocked Planned Parenthood from participating.

Under a grand bargain brokered by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R) of the House Women's Health Caucus, no amendment will be added to the House budget bill that could jeopardize the inclusion of the women's health funding. Meanwhile, the $71 million designated for the Texas Women's Health Program is earmarked under rules so that none of the money can go to clinics associated with abortion providers.

Davis -- an abortion-rights opponent -- said many lawmakers felt political pressure to restore funding for women's services. The fights over abortion and Planned Parenthood two years ago "did not advance the ball" and "just threw family planning into a tailspin," she said.

House Committee Approves 20-Week Abortion Ban

In related news, a House committee on Friday approved a bill (HB 2364) that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed theory that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has voiced support for the measure.

So far, none of the 24 abortion-related bills proposed this legislative session have reached the floor of either chamber (Aaronson, Texas Tribune/New York Times, 5/4).