Texas Freedom Network has a lot to be irritated about lately. TFN is a left-leaning advocacy group focusing on things like civil liberties, church-state separation and not wasting classroom hours teaching Texas schoolchildren that the Rapture is a rock-solid scientific inevitability.
As you might imagine, TFN comes down on the opposite side of many issues from the majority of Texas politicians, especially where women's health, birth control and family planning are concerned. The organization has been especially critical of state lawmakers' decision to cut $73 million from the state family planning budget last session, as well as boot Planned Parenthood out of the Women's Health Program. They've termed the whole thing a "war on birth control," because, well, that's what State Representative Wayne Christian called it.
Today, TFN came out with a bit of better news: a survey claiming that, unlike their elected representatives, about two-thirds of Texans think all women in the state deserve access to birth control and family planning, regardless of income level. Some of them even think it should be state-funded.
The survey was conducted by Chesapeake Beach Consulting, usually described as a Republican polling firm, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, whose past client list includes a very long list of Democratic names. (We got an advance, embargoed copy, which we've embedded at the end of this post.) The pollsters talked to 604 registered voters in the week of February 6-11, with the margin of sampling error is listed as +/- 3.99 percent and a 95 percent confidence level.
The pollsters found "broad and deep" support for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women. Those viewpoints cross "political, racial, generational, and geographic lines."
"Moreover," they add, "strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as born-again Christians."
Well, strong-ish, anyway. In spots. With some still-significant differences of opinion across party, religious and demographic lines.
For example: Around two-thirds of the people polled (68 percent) said access to family planning and birth control is either "extremely important" or "very important." Ninety-five percent of Democrats felt that way, compared with just 50 percent of Republicans. The pollsters also broke the responses out into a few different (but all Christian) religious groups: 68 percent of Catholics said family planning access was important, for example, compared with 60 percent of people who describe themselves as born-again.
But the wording of that question doesn't get at where respondents think the funding ought to come from, which is the real issue. The report claims that a "strong majority" of voters opposed the 2011 legislative cuts to family planning. But "strong majority" actually means 57 percent (including 49 percent of the Republicans polled). Democratic women were the most likely to oppose the cuts (84 percent). Fifty-four percent of voters want that lost funding to be restored. Overall, though, 73 percent of the people polled did say they supported state-funding for family planning services for low-income women, including birth control.
As for providers who receive state funding to provide women's healthcare, the survey found that 56 percent of voters "believe that providers receiving state funding for women's health care and family planning must offer a full range of birth control options for women." Fifty-four percent favored a requirement that any state funding for women's health care and family planning "go only to medical providers that provide access to birth control options like the birth control pill." The report calls these numbers "a majority," which is true, although it's not a particularly resounding one.
There was also a pretty even split on whether employers should be able to deny their employees access to birth control or Plan B based on their religious beliefs. The pollsters found that 56 percent of their respondents thought an employer should have to pay for birth control, while 53 percent thought they should have to cover Plan B.
The conclusion that TFN's pollsters reached is pretty rosy. "Texas voters -- regardless of political or religious affiliation or racial background -- agree on the importance of ensuring Texas women have access to family planning and birth control," they write. "Voters support family planning policies that ensure that Texas women, not government or employers, can decide for themselves and have access to the family planning services and birth control they choose."
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"Politicians who want to interfere with the freedom of women to make decisions about their own health and when to have children are clearly out of step with the majority of Texans," TFN President Kathy Miller said in a press release issued this afternoon. "Most Texans want the Legislature to provide adequate funding for family planning programs and ensure broad availability of birth control, especially for low-income women.
In reality, though, the survey seems to reveal a few other things: that while two-thirds of Texans might theoretically favor access to birth control and family planning, only a slim majority actually want the state to restore the funding necessary to pay for it. And Texans are still deeply divided, too, on whether an employer should be obligated to pay for birth control or emergency contraception. Somehow, all of this doesn't quite feel like enough to put on a pill-studded party hat and deck the halls with IUDs just yet.