Texas voters can protect reproductive health care

Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Despite the many issues impacting the lives of Texans, restricting access to safe, legal abortion continues to be a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott. On September 1, Senate Bill 8 largely went into effect. Among its other dangerous provisions, this bill bans one of the safest methods of abortion. However, a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban from taking effect.

This law is just one in a long line of attacks on access to essential reproductive health care. In the regular legislative session this year, Texas politicians filed nearly 40 anti-abortion bills and have passed some of the harshest restrictions on abortion in the U.S. over the past decade.

Meanwhile, the state of Texas finds itself in the position of having to pull back millions of dollars from the Heidi Group, an anti-abortion network that opposes access to reproductive rights. Last summer, the organization was awarded a contract through the state’s Healthy Texas Women program to provide reproductive health care to thousands of Texas women despite having no history of administering medical care.

In 2011, state officials blocked Planned Parenthood — once the highest volume provider of care through the program — from participating in an earlier version of the Healthy Texas Women program. After Planned Parenthood was excluded, the number of women receiving health care services in the program declined 39 percent, from 115,226 in FY 2011 to 70,336 in FY 2016.

All of these attempts to block access to quality preventative health care comes at a time when Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country, the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world and ranks 48th in the U.S. for women's health outcomes.

The Texas Legislature also recently passed a law banning insurance companies from offering coverage for abortions unless  women purchase supplemental policies on top of their existing plans. This law is essentially a tax on being a woman in Texas. Higher costs for health insurance not only creates the potential to cripple a family with medical debt but explicitly puts women’s health and well-being at risk by placing another barrier between families and safe medical care.

During the floor debate, several women’s health champions in the Legislature offered amendments that would have exempted non-viable pregnancies and victims of rape and incest from this cruel legislation. All were rejected — a clear example of just how far extremist politicians will go in their efforts to restrict access to abortion.

Over the years, the Texas Legislature has cut off funding for preventive family planning services while simultaneously chipping away at access to safe, legal abortion. These policies are part of a coordinated national strategy by anti-abortion politicians, who have passed more than 330 restrictions on abortion in Texas and other states since 2010, to ultimately make it impossible to obtain an abortion.

To be a woman in Texas is to have your autonomy, your health and your well-being constantly under attack by the so-called leaders entrusted with serving you. Extreme politicians love to proclaim a concern for women when they are promoting more bills to restrict access to abortion, while bypassing opportunities to truly serve their best interests.

We know this crusade against Planned Parenthood would not stop even if its health centers ceased to provide abortion. The same lawmakers that attack access to abortion also oppose comprehensive sex education. They promote the discredited and medically inaccurate claim that the morning after pill and IUDs are abortifacients in order to justify limiting access to these methods of contraception. Our state leaders are using public office to impose their extreme ideology on Texans who do not share their beliefs — and they will not stop until they are no longer in power.

Elections matter. More than ever, it’s important that every voice is heard and every vote is counted in our communities across Texas. September 26 is National Voter Registration Day. On this day, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes will hold voter registration drives around the state, asking Texans to pledge to vote in 2018. Laws that hurt Texas women and families will continue to pass until we elect leaders who will champion our rights. We must vote to hold them accountable. We must vote because the health, lives, and dignity of Texans are at stake.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Yvonne Gutierrez

Executive director, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes