In 2011, as we just cannot seem to stop mentioning, your state legislators cut $73 million from the state's family planning budget, instituted a tiered funding system designed to give family planning clinics any federal dollars dead last, and launched a weird war on the Medicaid Women's Health Program. All of this was in the name of halting those wanton, rampant, state- and federally funded abortions, a thing that doesn't actually exist. The impacts of all these cuts were clear from a mile off: a study last September in the New England Journal of Medicine warned that they were dismantling "a safety net that took decades to build and could not easily be recreated."
Nonsense, said Texas' Health and Human Services Commission. Among other pieces of "evidence," they released a deeply sketchy report that purported to show that even without Planned Parenthood, the new Texas Women's Health Program would easily be able to serve absolutely everybody who needed a new doctor. They did that, somehow, without even talking to more than half the family planning providers in the state.
Now, UT Austin has teamed up with a number of other research entities to form the Texas Policy Evaluation Project . It's meant to assess the impact of the reproductive healthcare cuts at a local level; they've even created a handy little app so you can look at just how many people in your county no longer have access to affordable healthcare.
Of course, you can also look at the data from the state level, as well as the House and Senate districts. But what's really eye-opening is those county numbers, which provide a ground-level view of the effect of the cuts that we haven't really been able to see before, except anecdotally. As Joseph Potter, a UT Austin sociology professor and the lead investigator on the project, told the Texas Tribune, "We put together this web app so people could see the direct impact of these cuts. It was brought to our attention that people around the state had seen the global figures of what the cuts were, but people didn't necessarily see it at the local level, and legislators certainly weren't seeing it at a local level."
In Dallas County, for example, the TxPEP research shows 225,029 low-income women need help paying for family planning services and reproductive healthcare. In 2010, before the cuts took place, 36,036 women were served through clinics receiving money from the Department of State Health Services (some of that money came from the state, and some from federal Title X funds). So, even before the cuts happened, only a fraction of poor women were actually getting the family planning assistance they needed. Afterwards, the number plummeted: In 2012, only 18,871 women were served at these clinics.
In dollar amounts, the TxPEP data shows those clinics got $7.2 million in 2010 and only about $2.5 million in 2012. There were 12 clinics open in Dallas County in 2010, all of them funded with that DSHS money. By 2012, one of those clinics had closed, seven others had lost their funding, and only four were still receiving DSHS family planning grants.
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The TxPEP researchers even managed to estimate how many fewer unplanned pregnancies were prevented in Dallas County in 2012 versus 2010: 3,928 last year, versus 7,500 in 2010. How do they do that? As a researcher with the project told the Trib, previous public health research indicates that for every 1,000 women provided with family planning help, about 242 unintended pregnancies are prevented.
None of this is at all surprising, although it is deeply depressing. As a bonus round, take a look at the data they pulled on Dallas County's STD rates. Now allow yourself to think about how much worse those could get, with thousands of people no longer getting access to basic reproductive health services.
In a small piece of good news, the House adopted a budget yesterday that adds back $100 million towards family planning. The House members also tried very hard to avoid having any sort of floor debate about abortion , with both the Republican and Democrat sides each withdrawing a few potentially controversial family-planning amendments earlier this week.
"It doesn't restore us. It doesn't fix things," Representative Jessica Farrar, a Democrat from Houston, told the Austin-American Statesman of the $100 million. "But we're better off than we were before." Right now, that's about the best Texas women can hope for.