Texas Lawmakers Mismanage Our Tax Dollars to Attack Abortion

In the aftermath of the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision striking down HB2, the omnibus abortion restriction law in Texas that closed over half the abortion clinics in its wake, Texas is on the hook to pay abortion providers and cough up legal fees for damages imposed by the draconian law. Texas may have to pay up to $4.5M to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the lawyers who represented clinics at the Supreme Court this past June. Texas rightfully owes damages to the clinics and lawyers who’ve spent years fighting its repressive laws and their impact on our least resourced communities. The shuttering of clinics has a long-lasting effect — it will take years to rebuild. Many clinics will never reopen, and the abortion access environment in Texas was already strained before this harmful law passed over the angry voices of so many Texans. The falsehoods spread about abortion providers, the confusion sown in communities who need access, and the financial disregard for the business owners and providers who own and work at clinics will take decades to repair. In the meantime, our health and rights hang in the balance.

Texans are thankful for this critical decision, but know there’s so still so many more barriers to abortion access.

Because of anti-abortion legislators’ desire to grandstand and publicly shame people who need abortions, millions of dollars are being diverted from needed services and organizations. The latest tactic we’re seeing, both in Texas and beyond, is to force those who’ve had abortions and miscarriages to pay for cremation and funeral expenses. Reproductive rights groups like Texas abortion funds and groups like Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas aren’t usually partners in legislative work, but in this case represent the wide range of Texans who’ve predicted the harms from a law like this one and have been vocal against it. Adding more cost-prohibitive barriers to abortion access, guilting and shaming the large number of people whose pregnancies have ended — whether through abortion or miscarriage — and negatively impacting the jobs of people in working in the funeral industry has not given pause to legislators whose primary goal is blocking abortion instead of taking care of our communities. Politicians working against abortion know these laws are patently unconstitutional and likely to draw huge legal fees to defend in court, and yet they purposefully and vindictively continue to pass laws limiting abortion in direct opposition to our state’s interest. While they love to crow about withholding tax dollars for abortion, the effect of these predictable and lengthy court battles is just that, as thousands of people being denied care while the fight plays out. The meaning of legal may be slippery to the Texas state government. Our current Attorney General Ken Paxton took office even as a scandal around felony fraud charges heated up, and he’s headed for trial soon. Rick Perry had his own history with indictments surrounding abuse of power. These incidents demonstrate a willingness to be distracted from the business of governing and protecting in the pursuit of personal and ideological gain.

This is not an exercise in hypotheticals. Texas’s maternal mortality rates skyrocketed, particularly for Black women giving birth, infuriatingly without concrete explanations except for deep poverty and lack of all healthcare access prevalent among so many Texas families. Texas blocks funding for family planning services, and has even gone so far as to cut off birth control, cancer screenings, HIV tests and preventative care at the largest, most trusted reproductive health care provider, Planned Parenthood, in order to score cheap political points from anti-abortion bullies. It’s worth noting that these clinics were already unable to provide abortions because Texas cut off family planning dollars from all clinics that do provide abortions over a decade ago, going so far as to reject federal money for our care just to exclude Planned Parenthood. That money is now funneled to deceptive Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) whose primary goal is to block people from accessing the abortions they need. Legislators awarded CPC the Heidi Group $1.6M, making them the second largest recipient of dollars under the “Healthy Texas Women” health care program for women with low incomes, despite the fact they don’t actually provide healthcare and work to deceive pregnant people without economic resources into not choosing abortions. Or, as the Heidi Group says, “to save the lives of unborn children, minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health, and touch each life with the love of Christ.” Pregnant Texans deserve better than misleading information, judgment, and false promises, but people with less money are being coerced into just that.

Meanwhile, Texas is also detaining migrant children in Karnes and Dilley Counties, two of the three US family detention centers, and calling them child-care facilities, with migrant families “facing some of the most adverse childhood conditions of any children I have ever interviewed or evaluated.” Texas leads the nation in uninsured children, and yet chooses anti-abortion court fights over providing healthcare for our most vulnerable. 11% of children 18 and under lack healthcare. Texas ranks in the bottom third of states for spending per pupil, with students in under resourced schools and districts bearing the brunt of education budget cuts. And 1 out of 4 children in Texas is considered food-insecure, meaning they don’t have consistent access to adequate food because of a lack of money and other resources. When children are hungry, they aren’t able to focus in class or develop their brains and bodies in a healthy way. Access to food, like healthcare, is a human right.

Texas faces an under spending crisis, and should rightly be pouring money and resources into our hardest hit communities to ensure their needs are met; instead, it’s engaging in behaviors that waste millions of our tax dollars purely to make it less likely that someone will be able to get the abortion they need. Every dollar spent blocking abortion access in the name of ideological gain harms Texas families today.

As a former teacher in Texas and as someone who has watched my own friends, families, and former students struggle to access compassionate, competent, and accurate information to make the decisions best for them, I’m offended and outraged by the mismanagement of Texas’ tax dollars. As a former board member and Lilith Fund President, I’m intimately aware that the people calling abortion fund hotlines aren’t just struggling with paying for their abortions. People calling abortion funds make hard decisions between paying for childcare, groceries, medications, caring for dependents both young and old, and the abortions they need. Simply put, getting an abortion in Texas isn’t the first time they struggle with the economic injustices the state perpetuates and exacerbates. In the name of cruelty, injustice, and anti-abortion zealotry, the Texas legislature is actively harming our communities and starving them of the resources they deserve.

The National Network of Abortion Funds believes that everyone deserves to have the rights and resources to make the reproductive decisions right for them, regardless of whether someone chooses abortion or carrying a pregnancy to term. Not only is Texas withholding those rights and resources from people needing abortions, it’s diverting money away from communities in dire need, who deserve to have a safe and peaceful existence, robust health care, and the ability to raise children without state violence and without hunger. The right to choose an abortion shouldn’t depend on how much money you make or where you live, but for too many Texans, that’s exactly the situation. The Texas legislature would rather play politics with our lives.

Lindsay Rodriguez is the National Network of Abortion Funds’ Texas-based Communications Manager and a former President and board member of the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity.

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