House Medicaid Debate Turns into Abortion Fight

House tacks anti-abortion amendment to Medicaid cost-cutting bill
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In this legislative session, you never know when a heated fight over abortion might break out.

This evening it was during a four-hour House floor debate on a Medicaid cost-cutting bill. Tea Party freshman Rep. Jim Landtroop, R-Plainview, did the honors this time and won yet another victory for the anti-abortion movement this session.

Landtroop successfully tacked on an amendment to Senate Bill 23 prohibiting state family planning dollars from going to facilities that perform abortions or “abortion-related services.”

SB 23 is one of the descriptively named “fiscal matters” bills needed to help balance the budget. The House tentatively passed it on a 95 to 45 vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, would generate an estimated $426 million over the next biennium. One of the main features of the bill is the expansion of Medicaid managed care in South Texas—a system in which physicians are paid an upfront rate per patient rather than the current fee-for-service model. The bill also addresses Medicaid fraud prevention, children’s healthcare coverage and nursing home licensing.

BUt Landtroop used SB 23 to further the conservative effort this session to attack family planning providers. He said repeatedly that his intention with his amendment was to keep taxpayer dollars from going to abortion facilities. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the same argument his Republican colleagues have been using all session. Abortion facilities already don’t get state funds, nor do they use state dollars for abortions.

House Democrats challenged Landtroop’s amendment on several fronts, including his inability to define “abortion-related” service, calling it confusing and too broad. Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, pointed out that any hospital that had performed an emergency abortion or any physician that had previously performed an abortion could lose access to state family planning funds. Landtroop ultimately added an exemption for medical emergencies, but that didn’t help his case much.

“I understand what your intent is,” Turner told the freshman. “But the practical effect of your amendment goes far beyond what your intent is.”

Landtroop also heard from a few female Democrats, who told him they were tired of men debating women’s health issues this session.

“I rarely get on the (microphone),” Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “But I’m concerned that it continues to be men that are considering bills about women’s health. I’m getting tired of it.”

Even Zerwas, a practicing physician, took issue with the vagueness of the amendment. “The term ‘abortion-related’ is problematic,” he said. “I’m looking at it from a physician’s point of view.”

Well, he must not have been too concerned. Zerwas ultimately accepted the amendment, and the House voted it into the bill, once again proving that conservative rhetoric rules this session.