This week the Texas Tribune reported on a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine by a research group at UT-Austin. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (known more snappily as Tx-PEP) is studying the impact of “legislative changes to family planning policy in Texas.” The group’s findings, to be gathered over three years, promise to add weight to a debate that’s become highly politicized. In Texas, women’s health is not so much a public health issue as a Zeppelin filled with politicians’ hot air. In the absence of hard data, it’s easy for advocates of restricted reproductive services to make baseless assertions.
That’s about to change. In looking at the impact of cuts to the state family planning budget, Tx-PEP’s research group finds that:
- Clinics have reduced access to the most effective methods of contraception
- More clients are being asked to pay for services that had previously been free
- Women are choosing less-effective methods of contraception
- Women are foregoing tests for sexually transmitted infections
- Teens are having to travel further to access confidential services
In a survey conducted between February and May 2012, Tx-PEP also found that 53 family planning clinics have closed while 38 have reduced their hours. The clinic closure findings are close to what the Texas Observer reported in August based on a survey conducted for us by the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas in July 2012. We found that more than 60 family planning clinics have closed, only 12 of which belonged to Planned Parenthood. Clearly, each subsequent survey of family planning providers will find that more have been forced to shut their doors.
Over the next three years, Tx-PEP will examine the impact of budget cuts on family planning clinics, contraceptive services, women’s experience of accessing services, unintended pregnancies, births, and access to abortion care. The group will also evaluate the economic impact on Texas of these dramatic legislative decisions.
Hard facts about the choices made at the Capitol will, one hopes, inject some much-needed gravity into a mostly fact-free discussion. As more of Tx-PEP’s data are published, political bloviating might become harder to get away with.