Some Texas Republicans love nothing more than a good round of Planned Parenthood bashing, and they were at it again on Tuesday.
In a packed hearing room, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the latest controversial legislation filed by tea partier Ken Paxton (R-McKinney). Senate Bill 521 would prevent any organization that performs abortions—or any organization affiliated with an organization that performs abortions (read: Planned Parenthood)—from providing “human sexuality” or family-planning instruction (or instruction materials) in public schools. The bill would also require parental consent before children receive sex education.
Before discussion began, the bill was replaced with a committee substitute to elucidate that it obviously is not intended to apply to licensed and state owned hospitals. (Where private hospitals stand remains unclear.)
Joe Pojman, founder and executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, was direct about what this bill would do. “To our knowledge, there’s really only one organization that this would affect, and that’s Planned Parenthood,” he said.
“It’s very easy for them to be promoting their abortion facilities to these children,” he said. “That, we think, is objectionable. We don’t think that’s consistent with the state’s policy.” Pojman was referring to the state’s preference for abstinence education, which all sex-ed materials, even those supplied by Planned Parenthood, must conform to.
Another pro-life advocate Anne Newman, author of “Healthy Sex Education in Your Schools,” pulled information from the Planned Parenthood website. “One of the questions is ‘How can I have safer sex with my sex toys?’ Now, I ask you: do you want your children doing that?” Even though she took this information from Planned Parenthood’s greater website, not its instruction materials for schools, the room reacted with incredulity.
When the committee reconvened later in the afternoon, many of those who spoke on behalf of the bill cited Planned Parenthood’s “natural conflict of interest.” Terry Johnson, mother of four and development coordinator at Austin Life Care, expressed concern that Planned Parenthood might be profiting from providing sex-education materials to schools. “To have an entity that profits from the sale of birth control, STD testing and abortion teaching our children about sex is ludicrous… . I ask you, what is their motive?” (It might be worth noting here that Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.)
Johnson became upset over Planned Parenthood’s lack of instruction on social ethics and spirituality. She implied that Planned Parenthood was depriving middle schoolers of their childhood. “Is there a condom for their innocence?”
“The abortion providers will make money off of the condoms, they make money on the morning-after pill when the condom breaks and they make money on the abortions. This is a clear conflict of interest. It’s basically like having your primary care physician double as your mortician. He wins either way,” Johnson said.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) eventually joined the committee hearing. He’s a co-author on the bill, but didn’t agree with much of the anti-Planned Parenthood talk. “I am a pro-life legislator, but at the same time I have to give credit to that particular [organization] you want to boot out of here, for other services not related to abortion that they provide that no one else does.”
He wondered, if they’re booted out, “Who is going to pick up the slack on the other services that they provide for hundreds of thousands of women in this state?”
Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) got angry at one point, when a witness against the bill identified as pro choice. She said, “I’m amazed at those who make a point of promoting abortion. They’re all a lie. Your mom didn’t abort you.”
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network and a critic of the bill, was one of the last to testify. “This legislation,” she said, “would eliminate or at least put serious hurdles in the way of sex education … in a number of school districts, whether that education is abstinence only or abstinence-plus information about condoms and contraception.”