News Sexual Health

Texas GOP Lawmakers Divert HIV Funds to Abstinence Education Program

Andrea Grimes

State Rep. Stuart Spitzer said his "goal is for everybody to be abstinent until they’re married." Democrats questioned Spitzer's knowledge about sexual health after he stated that sexual intercourse was the only way to contract STIs.

Texas Republicans voted to divert funds from an HIV screening program into abstinence education Tuesday night, during an often tense and uncomfortable debate that got too personal for some lawmakers.

Texas has the third-highest HIV infection rate in the country as well as the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate and highest repeat teen pregnancy rate, but Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a surgeon from North Texas, said his “goal is for everybody to be abstinent until they’re married.”

“My goal is for everybody to be HIV/AIDS free,” countered state Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), who peppered Spitzer with questions about Texas’ high HIV and STI rates, and opposed Spitzer’s plan to move $3 million from an HIV and STI screening program into abstinence education.

Spitzer’s amendment—which passed largely along party lines, with support from his fellow Republicans—to the state’s $210 billion biennial budget would increase its annual abstinence education budget from around $5 million per year for the next two years, to more than $8 million for each year. The HIV/STI prevention program from which Spitzer’s amendment removes funds had an annual budget allocation of around $191 million.

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During the debate, Spitzer admitted that Texas’ abstinence education program “may not be working well” in light of the state’s high teen pregnancy and STI rates, but argued that because of the HIV/STI program’s already larger budget, it could spare the funds for abstinence. Texas’ House Democrats said that more money for abstinence education would do little to improve Texans’ sexual health.

One Democrat, Rep. Harold Dutton (Houston), even asked Spitzer if he himself had personal experience with abstinence, tipping off an awkward public debate about Spitzer’s sex life.

“I’ve had sex with one woman, and that’s my wife,” said Spitzer, who stated that he was a virgin at age 29 when he got married, and that his decision not to have premarital sex enabled him to become a surgeon and state representative.

Dutton then asked if Spitzer had tried to have sex with anyone else before he married his wife, implying that Spitzer’s abstinence may not have been due entirely to personal choice and sending the Texas House chamber into an uproar.

Other Democrats questioned Spitzer’s knowledge about sexual health after he stated that sexual intercourse was the only way to contract STIs.

“If you think you can’t get an STD without having sex, maybe we need to educate you on how to get STDs,” said Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth).

Spitzer later said on his Facebook page that he is “perfectly able to speak about what activities put you at risk of STD/AIDS. That is why I support abstinence education.”

Over the course of an 18-hour budget debate, Texas lawmakers also voted to bar abortion “affiliates” from providing sex education materials in schools in an ongoing effort to target Planned Parenthood.

The Texas house will vote to approve its version of the biennial budget one more time before sending it to the state senate, which will propose its own version of the budget. Discrepancies in the two versions will then be ironed out in a conference committee later in the legislative session.

News Family Planning

Judge Thwarts Ohio GOP’s Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding

Michelle D. Anderson

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” said Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

An effort to defund Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates by Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican-held legislature has come to an end.

Judge Michael R. Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio on Friday ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, granting a permanent injunction on an anti-choice state law.

The court ruling will keep Richard Hodges, the Ohio Department of Health director, from enforcing HB 294.

The 2015 law, sponsored by Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) and Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Butler County), would have redirected $1.3 million in state and federal taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood’s 28 clinics in Ohio.

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The law would have required the state department to keep federal funds and materials that the health department receives from being distributed to entities that perform or promote non-therapeutic abortions, or maintain affiliation with any entity that does.

Funding that would’ve been cut off from the state health department went to the Violence Against Women and Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention acts, the Infertility Prevention Project, Minority HIV/AIDS and Infant Mortality Reduction initiatives, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program.

Planned Parenthood in a lawsuit argued that the Republican legislation violated the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Barrett had temporarily blocked the law after Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the lawsuit and requested a preliminary injunction. The judge had issued an opinion contending that some legislators passed the law to make it difficult for people to access abortion care, as Rewire reported.

Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, praised the judge’s temporary order.

“This law would have been especially burdensome to communities of color and people with low income who already often have the least access to care—this law would have made a bad situation worse,” Harvey said in a statement.

Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s executive director, said in a statement that the Ohio legislature passed the anti-choice measure in an effort to appeal to conservative voters in early primary states during Kasich’s presidential campaign.

Copeland said that while the legislation made no effort to reduce the number of abortions performed, “it actively blocked critical health care for low-income women and families.”

Planned Parenthood said those services included 70,000 free STD screenings, thousands of HIV tests for at-risk community residents, and the largest infant mortality prevention program in the state.

In the 23-page court order and opinion, Barrett, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the law would have deterred “patients from seeking these potentially life-saving services.”

Planned Parenthood noted that the recent ruling in Ohio makes it among the ten states where courts have blocked anti-choice laws following June’s landmark Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

News Health Systems

Texas Anti-Choice Group Gets $1.6 Million Windfall From State

Teddy Wilson

“Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services," Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement.

A Texas anti-choice organization will receive more than $1.6 million in state funds from a reproductive health-care program designed by legislators to exclude Planned Parenthood

The Heidi Group was awarded the second largest grant ever provided for services through the Healthy Texas Women program, according to the Associated Press.

Carol Everett, the founder and CEO of the group and a prominent anti-choice activist and speaker, told the AP her organization’s contract with the state “is about filling gaps, not about ideology.”

“I did not see quality health care offered to women in rural areas,” Everett said.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that it was “inappropriate” for the state to award a contract to an organization for services that it has never performed.

“The Heidi Group is an anti-abortion organization, it is not a healthcare provider,” Busby said.

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State lawmakers in 2011 sought to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Texas Women’s Health Program, which was jointly funded through federal and state dollars. Texas launched a state-funded version in 2013, and this year lawmakers announced the Healthy Texas Women program.

Healthy Texas Women is designed help women between the ages of 18 and 44 with a household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and includes $285 million in funding and 5,000 providers across the state.

Bubsy said the contract to the Heidi Group was “especially troubling” in light of claims made by Everett in response to a recent policy requiring abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains. Everett has argued that methods of disposal of fetal remains could contaminate the water supply.

“There’s several health concerns. What if the woman had HIV? What if she had a sexually transmitted disease? What if those germs went through and got into our water supply,” Everett told an Austin Fox News affiliate.

The transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through water systems or similar means is not supported by scientific evidence.

“The state has no business contracting with an entity, or an individual, that perpetuates such absurd, inaccurate claims,” Busby said. “Healthy Texas Women funding should be going directly to medical providers who have experience providing family planning and preventive care services, not anti-abortion organizations that have never provided those services.”

According to a previous iteration of the Heidi Group’s website, the organization worked to help “girls and women in unplanned pregnancies make positive, life-affirming choices.”

Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Bryan Black told the Texas Tribune that the Heidi Group had “changed its focus.”

The Heidi Group “will now be providing women’s health and family planning services required by Healthy Texas Women, including birth control, STI screening and treatment, plus cancer screenings to women across Texas,” Black said in an email to the Tribune.

Its current site reads: “The Heidi Group exists to ensure that all Texas women have access to quality health care by coordinating services in a statewide network of full-service medical providers.”

Everett told the American-Statesman the organization will distribute the state funds to 25 clinics and physicians across the state, but she has yet to disclose which clinics or physicians will receive the funds or what its selection process will entail.

She also disputed the criticism that her opposition to abortion would affect how her organization would distribute the state funds.

“As a woman, I am never going to tell another woman what to tell to do,” Everett said. “Our goal is to find out what she wants to do. We want her to have fully informed decision on what she wants to do.”

“I want to find health care for that woman who can’t afford it. She is the one in my thoughts,” she continued.

The address listed on the Heidi Group’s award is the same as an anti-choice clinic, commonly referred to as a crisis pregnancy center, in San Antonio, the Texas Observer reported.

Life Choices Medical Clinic offers services including pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and well-woman exams. However, the clinic does not provide abortion referrals or any contraception, birth control, or family planning services.

The organization’s mission is 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.”

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