By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Truth is, ever since Roe v. Wade, those opposed to abortion rights have been searching for ways to ban both direct and indirect public funding for abortions. The direct came easy enough, with the passage of the federal Hyde amendment in 1976. But prohibiting indirect government funding of abortions--those family-planning dollars allocated to local Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions through private donations (justice funds, as they are called)--has been more problematic.
Besides the "fungibility theory," which justifies a ban on public family-planning money because it might "free up" private funds that may be used for abortion, anti-abortion groups argue that taxpayers should not be required to pay for what they consider immoral. At the extreme, other groups believe that family-planning clinics are just out to build a strong customer base by promoting promiscuity through sex education and condom distribution, and then steering these patients to the same abortion clinics in which they have a vested financial interest.
Time and again, various states have attempted to put restrictions on federal money appropriated under Title X of the Public Health Services Act (family planning for the poor). But Title X regulations require that a woman facing an unintended pregnancy receive "nondirective counseling" and referrals upon request for each of her legal choices: prenatal care, adoption and abortion. States that have attempted to impose a so-called "gag rule" prohibiting Title X family-planning providers from engaging in abortion counseling and referrals have met with little success in court. The Texas rider does not go that far, but it does ban family-planning clinics from receiving Title X funds if those clinics are affiliated with abortion providers (i.e. Planned Parenthood). Historically, only those clinics that have failed to meet the stringent federal regulations for keeping the family-planning and abortion-providing aspects of their services "separate and distinct" have been cut off from public funding.
"We [Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas] have never violated these regulations and never done anything to jeopardize our family-planning funds," says Danielle Tierney, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Texas Capitol Region. But the Legislature didn't need any evidence of impropriety, not with the anti-abortion bias that underscored its agenda. Between enacting a statute that required women to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion so they could be informed (or misled, some argue) about the risks of pregnancy termination, and elevating the fetus to the status of a person for purposes of protection under criminal law, the move to "defund" Planned Parenthood, the arch-nemesis of social conservatives, seemed like easy pickings.
Tierney and others within the pro-choice movement fought hard to appeal to the anti-abortion instincts of lawmakers. "If their goal is to reduce the number of abortions, pro-life legislators should fully fund family-planning programs instead of jeopardizing the very services that prevent unintended pregnancies to begin with."
The first two riders introduced in the House, one of which contained a gag rule, unraveled because they went too far. Only in the Senate Finance Committee was defunding able to gain any traction. "What we had on the Senate side was a deadly combination of Senators Ogden and Williams," Tierney says. Williams was Senate sponsor of numerous anti-abortion bills. Ogden, on the other hand, had a fervent anti-abortion constituency represented by the Coalition for Life, which pushed him to take action against Planned Parenthood in Bryan, where abortions have been performed since 1998.
"We needed to find a way to diminish their revenue," says David Bereit, executive director of Coalition for Life. "Planned Parenthood is a corrupt corporate entity, because it destroys human life. The organization is the problem, not what the funding is used for."
A spokesman for Senator Ogden claims he has no philosophical problems with family planning, which is why he supported the waiver provision within the rider. If the Texas Department of Health determines that defunding will result in a "significant reduction" of family-planning services in a particular region, the department can waive the rider for one year until it can contract with another family-planning provider that does not offer abortions.
Planned Parenthood of North Texas finds this an unlikely scenario. "County health departments are just not going to be able to pick up the slack," says Kathryn Allen. "They don't do fund raising. They will just tell patients, 'See you in six weeks.' But our patients need the services right now."
When TDH informed Planned Parenthood in June that it must sign a pledge to stop performing abortions or be dropped from the state family-planning program, Planned Parenthood sued. Although each side seems confident it will prevail in court, staffers at Corsicana Heath Services must contemplate what will happen to them if they lose their funding.
"The better question," Guerra says, "is what will happen to our patients."