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Advocates Dispute Texas' Claims on Women's Health Access

February 24, 2014 — Texas lawmakers and health policy advocates have presented contrasting views of the state's progress in ensuring women's access to reproductive health services, the Texas Tribune reports (Aaronson/Ura, Texas Tribune, 2/20).

Background on Family Planning Cuts

In 2011, the Texas Legislature cut the state's family planning budget by two-thirds and blocked funding to Planned Parenthood and other women's health clinics affiliated with abortion providers. As a result of the cuts, 76 of Texas' family planning clinics closed or stopped providing family planning services, according to a survey by University of Texas-Austin researchers who are monitoring the impact of the cuts.

To mitigate the effect of the 2011 cuts, Texas legislators during the 2013 session increased women's health funds to $214 million for the 2014-2015 state budget, up from $109 million in the previous budget. The funding was dedicated to expanding primary care, operating the Texas Women's Health Program and replacing the family planning grants that the federal government awarded to another organization to distribute (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/9/13).

Despite last year's changes, the state's service capacity for family planning is expected to decrease to 65,000 clients in 2015, compared with 203,000 in 2011, according to the Texas Tribune.

Reports of Improved Access Disputed

At a state Senate committee hearing last week, state Sen. Jane Nelson (R) praised state efforts to boost women's health care services and cited projections from the Department of State Health Services that its expanded primary care program will serve 170,000 clients through 2015.

DSHS Assistant Commissioner Evelyn Delgado added that up to 102,000 women who lost access to family planning services under the budget cuts would be able to obtain those services through the new program. According to Delgado, DSHS has also contracted with 55 health providers to offer services through the new program.

However, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D) said the decision to block Planned Parenthood continues to damage the state's provider network and urged lawmakers to approve legislation to improve access to reproductive health services.

Meanwhile, Christine Sebastian, an Austin-based ob-gyn, told protesters gathered outside the hearing that it would take several years for the state to repair its provider network. "The damage really has already been done," she said (Texas Tribune, 2/20).