Sen. Deuell Asks Attorney General To Clarify Family Planning Funding Laws
AUSTIN - Two weeks ago I submitted an opinion request to the Texas attorney general's office regarding the use of state funds by health facilities that perform abortions. I am trying to clarify how we can best use state money to expand women's access to comprehensive healthcare without funneling money to organizations that perform abortions.
In 2005, the Women's Health Program (WHP) was established to provide family planning and related health screenings to women who are between the ages of 18 and 44, have no reasonable access to insurance, and whose family income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Since the program's implementation in 2007, it has served over 90,000 clients across the state.
Before passage of the bill that would create the WHP, I added an amendment to prevent state funds from being used "to perform or promote elective abortions" or be given to entities or "affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions." This was an important amendment because it guaranteed that no taxpayer money would go towards an organization that performs a controversial procedure that many Texans morally oppose.
Last year, I learned that the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) had disregarded that mandate by entering into contracts with a number of Planned Parenthood affiliates across the state. I expressed my concern to Albert Hawkins, the executive commissioner of the HHSC at the time, in a January 2009 letter and asked for information regarding how much money those affiliates had been given and why the department had failed to apply that portion of the amendment.
In his reply, Commissioner Hawkins acknowledged that almost $5 million had been paid to 12 different Planned Parenthood entities and that "for legal reasons," the department was "unable...to fully implement the prohibition against contracting with an organization that is an affiliate of an entity that performs or promotes elective abortions." He added that he had been advised by his legal staff that implementing that specific ban "would likely be held unconstitutional by the courts" and used the precedent set by a number of similar court cases to support this conclusion.
It should be noted that despite the HHSC's failure to prevent funds from going to Planned Parenthood affiliates, federal law continues to prevent tax money from paying for abortion procedures. Where I disagreed with former Commissioner Hawkins -- and what I hope Attorney General Abbott can clarify -- is the legal definition of "affiliates" as specified in the statute.
In the rulings issued for the cases cited by Commissioner Hawkins, the courts applied a title of the federal Public Health Service Act which he believed would likely be used again to rule the affiliate funding restriction unconstitutional. I, as well as current HHSC Commissioner Thomas Suehs, , believe that funding for the WHP may instead fall under a title of the Social Security Act which legally allows this funding restriction.
Although not all Planned Parenthood affiliates perform abortions, I believe that we should reduce the amount of tax money being funneled to clinics that many taxpayers oppose, and increase funding eligibility for the more than 400 clinics that address comprehensive women's health issues beyond simply birth control and STD checks.
This is about increasing the number of medical services available to women, and making sure that all Texans -- and taxpayers -- can agree that those services absolutely necessary.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process or if you have a suggestion for a future Capitol Update, please contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0102 or send mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: firstname.lastname@example.org.