Texas is still using the coronavirus to interfere with women's health


Texas plans to cut programs providing birth control and cancer screenings to people with lower incomes.

The Texas government is doing some belt-tightening, but it looks like they'll be letting anti-abortion groups escape the cuts. 

Like many states, Texas's tax revenue is way down thanks to the coronavirus — nearly 30% over the previous year at this time. So it isn't unusual that they would need to cut state funding. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is asking state agencies to figure out a way to cut budgets by 5%, but that generally excludes public health programs. 

However, the Texas Tribune obtained a budget proposal that shows $3.8 million in cuts to programs providing birth control and cancer screenings to people with lower incomes. At the same time, they intend to keep the pipeline of funds to Texas' Alternatives to Abortion program intact. 

The Alternatives to Abortion program pays private counselors to dissuade people from getting abortions. This often means funding crisis pregnancy centers, Besides being a source of misinformation about abortion, some of these Texas centers have a terrible track record, financially. 

Take the Heidi Group, which was given millions of state taxpayer dollars in 2017. They received $1.6 million directly and $5 million to distribute to other providers. They said they'd serve 70,000 people yearly but managed to serve only a few thousand. They did, however, spend 11% of their annual yearly expenditures on a group cruise. 

It wasn't just the Heidi Group that received millions. In 2017 alone, the state gave the Alternatives to Abortion program $20 million, and in 2019, the state proposed more than doubling the program to $41 million. With the proposed 2021 budget rolled in, Texas has given the program $170 million since 2006. The budget proposal obtained by the Tribune would keep that astronomical funding intact.

There's no quantification as to whether or how stopping people from having abortions saves Texas money. On the other hand, there is hard data showing that providing low-income people with access to contraception and cancer screenings provides a direct financial benefit to the state. The Texas administration's own data shows the state saved $19.6 million in fiscal year 2019 by preventing births via birth control and family planning efforts—and that doesn't include programs that provide abortions. 

Texas has previously used the coronavirus as a way to undercut the right to choose. The state spent a month litigating its abortion ban and during that time, it was difficult for people to determine whether abortion was legal or not on any given day. Additionally, the effects lingered, with abortion clinics seeing spikes in demand even into August.

Now, with the proposed cuts to reproductive health programs and the goal of keeping anti-choice programs intact, the state has found another way to use the pandemic to promote anti-choice views. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.