I believe that just as Democrats must make the 2012 elections in Texas about public education, they must also make them about health care, in particular access to health care for women. There’s some polling data to suggest this will be effective.
Fifty-nine percent of likely Texas voters oppose Gov. Rick Perry’s efforts to keep Planned Parenthood out of the joint state-federal Women’s Health Program, while 38 percent approve, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling.
But the poll — released as the reproductive health program circles the drain — is likely to have critics. It was sponsored by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics currently provide reproductive health care for 40 percent of the low-income women in the program.
And some of the language in the poll questions is hotly debated by Republican lawmakers and abortion opponents, who say they are following federal law — not breaking it — by excluding from the Medicaid waiver program Planned Parenthood and other clinics under the same organizational umbrella as abortion providers.
Public Policy Polling’s survey of 562 likely Texas voters last week found that women strongly opposed the effort to keep Planned Parenthood out of the program, 57 percent to 37 percent. According to the poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.1 percent, more than half of Texas voters view Perry and other state lawmakers’ response to the Women’s Heatlh Program unfavorably.
“Texas voters are sending a clear message to Governor Perry: they think the Women’s Health Program is important and that he should leave it alone,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling. “And they think it’s wrong to use Planned Parenthood as a political piñata and deny low-income women access to critical cancer screenings, birth control and screenings for diabetes and hypertension.”
The poll questions, however, seem to lay the blame for the near-demise of the program at Texas lawmakers’ feet. For example, they say that a “new Texas rule will end the Medicaid Women’s Health Program altogether.” Abortion opponents argue it’s the Obama administration that is ending the program by refusing to withstand the Texas rule.
You can see the polling memo here. I don’t have crosstabs or the wording of the questions, so I can’t go into any depth about this. It’s only one data point, and I’m sure that differently worded questions could well lead to different results. But that’s just another way of saying that it’s important to define the issue in a way that resonates with the voters. Clearly that can be done. It won’t play everywhere in the state, but for sure there are some districts in which there should be plenty of traction.
More to the point, this fits right in with the greater narrative of the sustained national assault on women’s health – and women in general – by the Republican Party. The winds have shifted, with Rush Limbaugh losing advertisers left and right after his disgusting statements about Sandra Fluke, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski publicly renouncing her vote on the Blunt Amendment after getting an earful back home. There’s energy on the progressive side in engaging this fight, with people taking to the streets in Austin.
Austin musician Marcia Ball is not a political activist. But after hearing that the state Women’s Health Program would lose federal funding as a result of the Legislature’s decision to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state Medicaid program, she organized a protest that drew hundreds of people to the state Capitol today.
“I just got fed up,” Ball said. “I suspected there were many people like me, including Christians and people of all ages, who think it’s a mistake to defund low-income women’s basic health care. All this defunding for political gain is hurting hundreds of thousands of low-income women.”
The rally drew progressive political activists, local musicians, state representatives and women’s health clinic employees. Passing cars honked in support as protesters held up signs with slogans such as “Don’t Mess with Texas Women” and “I’m a Christian and I Believe in Science, Birth Control, and Tolerance.”
“I’ve been protesting [for women’s rights] since the ’60s and ’70s, when I was at UT,” said Anita Quintanilla. “I thought by the ‘80s, we wouldn’t have to be protesting for women’s rights. I have a 21-year-old daughter, and I hoped she wouldn’t have to worry about women’s rights. I’m fighting for her.”
Trail Blazers, from whom I snagged that photo, Texas Politics, and BOR have more on this. The Republican counter-argument continues to be that the impending loss of the Women’s Health Program is the fault of the Obama administration and that it’s the Republicans who really want to protect it. State Rep. Mike Villarreal makes short work of that.
Today State Rep. Mike Villarreal responded to recent statements by Governor Rick Perry and other Texas Republican leaders expressing their support for the Women’s Health Program (WHP) and blaming the Obama Administration for the program’s expected termination this month.
“The idea that Texas Republicans have supported the Women’s Health Program is laughable. It has no connection to reality,” said Rep. Villarreal. “Anyone who paid attention to the last legislative session knows that Texas Republicans consistently demonstrated their hostility towards the Women’s Health Program and other family planning programs. Republican-dominated committees in the House and Senate blocked ten different bills to continue the Women’s Health Program.”
During the 2011 legislative session, Republicans blocked the following bills to continue the WHP, which was scheduled to expire December 31, 2011:
- HB 419 by Rep. Villarreal: blocked in House Human Services Committee after a hearing
- HB 1255 by Rep. Strama: no hearing in House Public Health Committee
- HB 1478 by Rep. Woolley: blocked in House Public Health Committee after a hearing
- HB 2299 by Rep. Coleman: delayed in the House Human Services until the last month of the legislative session, and then blocked in the Local and Consent Calendars Committee
- HB 3256 by Rep. Strama: no hearing in House Public Health Committee
- SB 325 by Sen. Van de Putte: no hearing in Senate Health and Human Services Committee
- SB 575 by Sen. Van de Putte: blocked in Senate Health and Human Services Committee after a hearing
- SB 585 by Sen. Watson: blocked in Senate Health and Human Services Committee after a hearing
- SB 1138 by Rep. Rodriguez: blocked in House Public Health Committee after a hearing
- SB 1854 by Sen. Deuell: delayed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee until the last month of the session, and then blocked on the Intent Calendar
The program was only allowed to continue into 2012 based on a determination that its inclusion in the state budget constituted legislative direction to renew the program beyond 2011.
During committee debate on Rep. Villarreal’s HB 419, Republican Representative Jodie Laubenberg challenged the suggestion that contraception would reduce unplanned pregnancies and state Medicaid costs. Expressing her disbelief, Rep. Laubenberg said, “We’re going to save on the non-babies that are being born? We’re going to prevent baby births? This has got to be government math. Basing it (the estimated savings) on the speculation that you are going to save money by non-babies, by non-Medicaid baby births.”
The Women’s Health Program provides contraception, cancer screenings, and other basic health services to uninsured low-income Texas women. It does not provide abortions. The Medicaid waiver program is expected to be discontinued this month because Republican leaders prohibited the participation of Planned Parenthood, violating the federal law against indiscriminately excluding health care providers. Nearly half of Women’s Health Program clients receive services through Planned Parenthood, which does not provide abortions at WHP clinics. According to estimates from the Health and Human Services Commission, in calendar year 2009 the WHP averted 10,300 Medicaid-paid births, saving the state $20 million in general revenue after accounting for the state’s $3 million investment. The estimate does not include the significant long-term savings.
During the legislative session Republican legislators also targeted the family planning program at the Department of State Health Services. No program faced more cuts during the budget debate on the House floor. During that debate Republicans passed the following seven amendments to cut funding to the program:
- An amendment by Rep. Weber to cut $9.3 million
- An amendment by Rep. Christian to cut $6.6 million
- An amendment by Rep. Bohac to cut $14.4 million
- An amendment by Rep. Murphy to cut $1.4 million
- An amendment by Rep. Miller to cut $21.2 million
- An amendment by Rep. Zedler to cut $1.8 million
- An amendment by Rep. Laubenberg to cut $9.2 million
The program received $111 million in 2010-2011. Budget-writers proposed a reduction to $99 million for 2012-2013 as part of across-the-board budget cuts. After the series of Republican amendments, the final funding level stood at $37 million for 2012-2013. The Legislative Budget Board estimates that the reduction in funding will result in 20,000 additional unplanned births and an additional $98 million in state general revenue expenditures during the current biennium.
During debate on his amendment to cut family planning funding, Republican Rep. Randy Weber argued that contraception increases abortions, saying, “The study I was fixin’ to cite shows that contraception does not eliminate crisis pregnancy but actually they had the highest rate.” According to the Houston Chronicle and others, the study shows the opposite of what Rep. Weber stated.
Generally speaking, when you have to tell lies to support your argument, you’re losing the argument. Like I said, it’s all about defining the issue. I’m delighted to see people pumped up and energized, but what really needs to happen is for those of us who already get it to do what we can to bring people who haven’t been voting our way on board. We can be as passionate as we want, we’re not going to get anywhere without changing minds and habits. We have the issues, we have the motivation, and we have the energy. We need the numbers.