Texas Lawmakers Vote to Take Millions from Clean Air to Fund Anti-Abortion Program

'This is not a pro-life amendment, this is a pro-birth amendment. After that you’re on your own,' one Democrat said.

Pregnant? Scared? CaA billboard advertises the help line for a crisis pregnancy center. n they help?
A billboard advertises a help line for a crisis pregnancy center.  Matthew C. Wright

Texas lawmakers voted Thursday to double funding for the state’s Alternatives to Abortion (A2A) program by taking money from environmental initiatives, a move that fed Democrat’s accusations that Republicans are more concerned with health inside the womb than out.

About halfway through the 16-hour debate on the House’s proposed $218 billion budget, lawmakers tentatively approved by a 93-52 vote the addition of $20 million over two years to the program that largely funds controversial crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel women against having abortions. The funding is taken from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) air quality assessment and planning program, which monitors air pollution levels.

“This is not a pro-life amendment, this is a pro-birth amendment,” said Representative Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “After that, you’re on your own, you’re going to have to breathe dirty air.”

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Funding for A2A nearly doubled last session, with a rider adding $8 million to the program over two years, bringing total state funding to more than $18 million in the 2016-17 cycle. If approved during conference committee negotiations, the new amendment would bring this total to $38 million in the next two-year cycle.

The program, which started in 2005, funnels money into crisis pregnancy centers that are often disguised as medical facilities. Investigations have found these provide scientifically inaccurate information to pregnant women, including claims that having an abortion would increase risk of breast cancer, infertility, and psychological trauma — statements that have been debunked by the Texas Medical Association.

Thursday’s amendment was originally filed by Representative Mike Schofield, R-Katy, who intended to take $8.35 million per year from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and funnel it to A2A. It was amended by Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, to increase funding to $10 million per year, and instead target clean air programs.

Republicans argued that TCEQ has an excess of general revenue funds and would not be harmed by losing $20 million. Democrats disagreed.

“Do you know how much A2A requested?” Representative Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, asked Krause, who replied that he did not. “Then how do you know you’re not giving them money they don’t even need?”

House Democrats Joe Moody, Gene Wu, Poncho Navarez and Chris Turner strategize during budget debate.  Sam DeGrave

Representative Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, was the sole Republican to oppose the measure.

Meanwhile, the House soundly rejected a Democratic amendment to take money from A2A to fund family planning services that have been slashed by the Legislature in recent years. Representative Chris Turner, D-Arlington, proposed transferring $4 million “from an unproven program to a proven one,” which he said would save Texas millions of dollars in Medicaid spending on unplanned pregnancies.

Instead, the House closed the budget debate by again approving a proposal to ban federal funding from going to organizations — like Planned Parenthood — that pay for or provides abortion services. Republicans and anti-abortion groups cheered the passage of both amendments, which along with the House budget will move to be reconciled with the Senate version.

Sophie is the public health reporting fellow at the Observer. She previously covered health care policy and politics at National Journal in Washington, D.C. You can contact her at [email protected].

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Published at 3:02 pm CST
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