“Planned Parenthood advocates abortion as a method of birth control,” Abby Johnson told a health department committee yesterday, with not inconsiderable passion. Johnson is a Planned Parenthood staffer turned fervent pro-life activist. She has a loud and vigorous—and engrossing— speaking style, though the Texas Health and Human Services Commission panel to whom she addressed her testimony did a good job of looking bored. Johnson’s testimony was followed by a clutch of pro-life activists, many stating that they opposed tax dollars being used to boost abortion. As if to underline the point, one or two members of the crowd milled about in t-shirts urging us to defend the lives of the unborn. Their passionate dedication to their cause was admirable, but I had to wonder if they had wandered into the wrong event. Their arguments about tax dollars supporting abortions simply didn’t jibe with reality.
The setting was yesterday’s public hearing about the health department’s plans to establish a state-funded Women’s Health Program. It was a standing-room only crowd; of the more than 150 people who turned up, 58 registered to speak. Some were emotional in their defense of Planned Parenthood, telling how the well-woman services at Planned Parenthood clinics had allowed them to graduate from college. A few, citing cases of cancer detected early, said that Planned Parenthood’s health program had saved their lives.
The Women’s Health Program pays for birth control and health screenings for low-income women. Its main purpose is to prevent unplanned pregnancies. The program had been funded through Medicaid, but the federal government is ending the program in Texas because of Gov. Rick Perry’s insistence that Planned Parenthood be excluded. So the state is launching its own version—sans Planned Parenthood—this fall. Hence yesterday’s public hearing.
But why, if the main objective of the Women’s Health Program is to prevent pregnancies, were some folks arguing that its largest provider promotes abortion?. In fact, pregnant women aren’t even eligible to enroll. And anyone who becomes pregnant is booted off the Women’s Health Program. Scientists unanimously agree that non-pregnant women don’t need abortions. So why all the abortion talk?
It doesn’t help that the proposed rules for the new-look Texas Women’s Health Program include a clause forbidding providers from “promoting” abortion. Noting the logical inconsistency of the clause, state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, suggested that politicians were holding women’s health care hostage for political gains. “You can’t be eligible for the Women’s Health Program if you’re pregnant, so why have a gag order about discussing abortion?” she said. “This is fanning the flames,” she added to applause from the family planning advocates.
If the pro-life activists are still skeptical that their tax dollars will be used to fund abortion, then they should look no further than the state for reassurance. Back in March, Stephanie Goodman, spokesperson for Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission, told the Observer that Women’s Health Program funds—or any public money—cannot pay for abortions. If anything, the Women’s Health Program, by preventing unplanned pregnancies, might reduce the number of abortions. Surely then, the pro-life lobby can do no better than support the effective (and cheap for Texas) Women’s Heath Program as it currently stands? After all, it’s geared to prevent the very thing that they hate.