Religious-right pressure groups have been on the warpath throughout the regular and special sessions of the Texas Legislature this year. They have made cutting funds for women’s health programs and, especially, providers like Planned Parenthood a priority. Late last week, for example, the Texas Pastor Council sent out an email to activists calling for the Texas Legislature to approve “the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood from tax dollars.” Their goal, these groups claim, is to keep tax dollars out of the hands of abortion providers. But state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, revealed that such claims are little more than a lie when he admitted that he and his allies on the right are engaged in “a war on birth control, abortion, everything — that’s what family planning is supposed to be about.”
In truth, the religious right is engaged in an all-out assault on common sense when it comes to women’s health and responsible disease and pregnancy prevention. And that assault is based on an ideologically driven and dangerously misguided desire to control the private decisions that individuals make about their own health and reproductive lives.
Let’s look at some facts. Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s annual report for 2008-09 (the most recent available on the web) indicates that only 3 percent of the organization’s services are for abortion. According to the report, 36 of PPFA’s total services are for contraception, 31 percent for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and 17 percent for cancer screening and prevention. And PPFA reports that it helped prevent roughly 621,000 unintended pregnancies during the year.
That last fact should be especially important in Texas, which has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation. The Department of State Health Services reports that a Texas teen gives birth every ten minutes. In fact, teen childbearing in Texas costs taxpayers about $1 billion annually. (UPDATE: That number is now up to $1.2 billion.) Yet religious-right groups want to eliminate funding for organizations that work to prevent those pregnancies through contraceptive services and evidence-based sex education.
The Texas Freedom Network, on the other hand, has been working to promote common sense and responsible sex education. A TFN Education Fund report in 2009 found that about 96 percent of Texas school districts taught abstinence-only or nothing at all on sex education. So we have been lobbying state lawmakers to pass legislation that reforms policies on sex education. We have also been encouraging Texans concerned about the failure of abstinence-only policies to volunteer to serve on local School Health Advisory Councils, or SHACs. SHACs, mandated by state law, propose policies on health and sex education in their local school districts.
We know that the vast majority of Texans support our goal. In fact, a TFN Education Fund poll in May 2010 found that 80 percent of likely voters in Texas support teaching high school students about contraception as well as abstinence.
The Legislature so far has failed to move forward, but we’re happy to report important progress at the local level. In fact, over the past two years school districts that together teach about 250,000 students have already improved their sex education programs, with many making the switch from abstinence-only to comprehensive, evidence-based sex education. Clearly, there is a lot of work left to do, but change is happening. (You can learn how to get involved in your community here.)
Religious-right groups have been pushing back, as we can see in the Texas Legislature. They continue to insist on pro-ignorance, abstinence-only programs that fail to teach young people the medically accurate information they need to make important life decisions and protect their health and their futures. And those groups want to destroy any program or organization that stands in their way. If they succeed, they will be even closer to gaining the power they want to control the most intimate decisions individuals make about their own lives. And that’s what the legislative assault on common sense, family planning and women’s health is really about.