As a top Republican lawmaker made her case Thursday that women's health programs in Texas remain effective after the Legislature banned the use of state funding for groups such as Planned Parenthood, critics blasted the GOP majority as placing ideology over best health care practices and leaving women with few choices for routine care.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said Texas spends more money and provides more access to women's health programs than ever before, even after the Republican-controlled Legislature sacrificed federal funding in order to ban state funding of clinics associated with groups that provide abortions.
"I realize that 2011 was a difficult budget year and reductions in family planning had an impact on access to services, but we also made significant investments and significant progress since then," she said. "I still see so much misleading data being circulated to Texas women, and one of the things I want to do today is set the record straight."
Nelson and state agency leaders said the Legislature provided $240 million for the 2014-15 budget cycle, compared with $127 million in 2012-13 and $201 million in 2010-11. State agencies shifted the programs from reimbursing single-purpose clinics for treating poor women to individual doctors in private practice.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, asked how the spending compared on a per-woman basis, since Texas has one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation and one of the highest poverty rates. Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek said he didn't have that information.
Outside the hearing, Democratic lawmakers and officials with Planned Parenthood and the Texas Freedom Network said the information provided at the hearing was distorted. Activists say poor women in rural areas face major obstacles to getting care since 76 family planning clinics had to shut down for lack of funding because the Republican majority didn't want any taxpayer money going to groups that support abortion rights.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, called on lawmakers to drop the funding ban on those clinics and resume accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for family planning.
"When women are not allowed access to affordable health care, when they have a state government that is more concerned with closing clinics than offering comprehensive women's health care ... that's when the decisions are made that are harmful, harmful to women and to Texas families," she said. "If you really want to reduce the number of abortions in this state, you don't do it by minimizing access. You do it by making it unnecessary in the first place."
Nelson acknowledged there was more work to be done to expand health services to Texas women using the state-only program.
"We need to better educate women and providers about the wide variety of programs that are available," she said. "We still have pockets of this state that have capacity issues and we need to aggressively target those areas."
The Texas Legislature does not meet again until 2015. The committees hold hearings while not in session to develop ideas for new laws.