In a letter to the Trump administration Tuesday, Republican state Representative Sarah Davis chided Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his recent incorrect claims about women’s health and urged the federal government to deny Paxton’s request to again give the state of Texas control over federal family planning dollars.
Davis said she decided to write the letter after reading the Observer’s coverage of Paxton’s letter to Trump officials last month, which inaccurately tied Texas’ loss of control over the family planning funds to the Legislature’s anti-abortion views and conflated two different women’s health programs.
“Inflammatory letters under the guise of protecting Texas’ belief to protect human life, risk future administration of the Title X grant funding,” wrote Davis, a Houston-area Republican who serves as the chair of the Texas House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and as secretary of the House Women’s Health Caucus. “Texas has a history peppered with examples of limiting access to women’s health care either by exclusion of providers, limitations on funding, or arbitrary policy measures that ultimately result in decreased access to care.”
For this reason, Davis, the only Republican in the Texas Legislature who supports abortion rights, wrote that she had “grave concerns” about putting the Texas health agency in charge of the funds again. In 2011, the Legislature slashed the state family planning budget by two-thirds in its vendetta against Planned Parenthood, leading 82 family planning clinics to close and tens of thousands of women to lose access to care. Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), Davis noted, has also been “plagued by contracting scandals.”
Paxton’s March 22 letter, which urged the feds to return management of Title X family planning dollars to the state government, so bungled the history of the federal funds in Texas that some advocates wondered if the state’s health agency had known the AG was sending it. Paxton claimed that Texas was deemed ineligible for Title X funds in 2012 for “ideological, not programmatic, reasons,” and that the Obama administration “removed Texas from the list of eligible Title X grant recipients because of our Legislature’s commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn.” But, in fact, the feds yanked the state’s funding after the Texas Legislature deeply gouged the program with budget cuts, leading to a 50 percent drop in the number of patients served by Title X. Though the state competed for the funds in 2013, the contract was given to a nonprofit coalition of providers instead — an arrangement that continues to this day.
Urging the feds to continue awarding Title X funding to the coalition rather than the state, Davis wrote Tuesday, “I do not see the need to fix something that is not only not broken, but functioning exactly as it was envisioned to do so.”
Paxton’s office did not respond to the Observer’s questions about his letter.
During a March 28 legislative hearing held by the health subcommittee Davis chairs, HHSC Executive Commissioner Charles Smith initially insisted that he and his staff had no hand in drafting the letter.
“Did you try to correct any of the errors that were contained in that letter?” Davis asked.
“I have no oversight over the attorney general … I have no authority to address any letters,” Smith responded.
An hour later in the hearing, Smith corrected himself to say that while he hadn’t edited the letter, he’d since found out that HHSC staff did, and “they believe the letter to be accurate.” Davis told the Observer that Smith later confirmed to her that Paxton’s letter was sent on behalf of HHSC, which plans to submit an application for the Title X funds ahead of the May deadline.
When I asked HHSC spokesperson Carrie Williams in an email whether HHSC acknowledges the inaccuracies in the letter, she merely replied “No.”
Less than a week after his initial correspondence, Paxton doubled down on his false claims. In another letter to the federal health agency, he again claimed that the federal government excluded Texas from Title X in 2012, because of the Legislature’s actions to “protect the widely-held religious and moral convictions of Texas taxpayers concerning abortion.” The citation to support this? Paxton’s own error-laden letter from a few days before.