Abortion really isn’t the issue here

Planned Parenthood funding battles have been in the news so much lately, it’s hard to keep track of which bill threatens which services. Texas Senate Bill 1854 would renew a program that provides low-income women with contraception and disease screening — but only if Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide that care. That stipulation may keep the bill from even being debated, and the program may lapse.

The Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program, according to a state website, “provides low-income women with family planning exams, related health screenings and birth control through Texas Medicaid.”

Now, the bill itself doesn’t single out Planned Parenthood, but rather all abortion providers. The bill states: “The department shall ensure the money spent under the program, regardless of the funding source, is not used to perform or promote elective abortions. The department, for the purpose of the program, may not contract with entities that perform or promote elective abortions or are affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions.”

The bill not only bans Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from participating in the program, but — as the Austin American-Statesman has reported — it would also kill the program entirely if Planned Parenthood successfully sued to participate.

If this isn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I don’t know what is. The program doesn’t cover abortion services (nor does any other state or federally funded program I’m aware of). So what does it matter if a woman chooses to obtain birth control and have preventative exams and screenings at a clinic that happens to also provide abortion services?

The bill itself is old news. It was introduced in March, and it got the Senate Health and Human Services Committee’s OK in early May. But the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Deuell (a Republican from Greenville), recently told the American-Statesman that he doesn’t have the support of enough senators to bring the legislation up for debate or a vote. The chamber’s 19 Republicans need to woo two Democrats to allow debate. But the Democrats, unsurprisingly, don’t like the Planned Parenthood “poison pill.” But, Deuell has argued, Republicans won’t renew the program without it.

“I guess we just won’t renew the program,” the Statesman quotes Deuell as saying. “I think it’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it’s got to be.”

This is not the way it has to be. Someone has to give. Arguments over whether abortion should be legal should not keep more than 100,000 low-income Texans from receiving Medicaid-covered contraceptives and disease screening. Abortion is legal, folks. Has been for almost 40 years. Not renewing this invaluable state program doesn’t show that Texas is anti-abortion. Not renewing the program shows that Texas’ ultra-conservative bloc is willing to further disenfranchise indigent women just to prove a petty point. It has nothing to do with the law, and everything to do with bragging rights.

So, let’s push the petty point aside and look at this another way: Contraception is cheaper than prenatal and obstetrical care. Medicaid can cover one or the other for many of these women. With the state facing a budget hole of more than $20 billion — and Republicans itching to balance the budget without raising taxes — it only makes sense to keep a program that saves the state money. Abortion rights really shouldn’t factor in.

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