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Texas Senate moves to block local governments from partnering with abortion providers


By Arya Sundaram

The Texas Senate approved in a preliminary vote Monday its first major anti-abortion bill of the session — a measure that would prohibit state and local governments from partnering with agencies that perform abortions, even if they contract for services not related to the procedure.

“I think taxpayers’ dollars should not be used for abortion facilities or their affiliates,” said state Sen. Donna Campbell, who authored the legislation.

Senate Bill 22 passed 20 to 11 with Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville bucking his party to support the bill. Lucio is the author of another anti-abortion bill, which would ensure abortion providers physically hand a controversial pamphlet detailing alternatives to abortion to women seeking the procedure.

Anti-abortion advocates support the measure in part because it would terminate “sweetheart rent deals," which is just one of the ways local governments partner with abortion providers. Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, has singled out one key target during the bill's hearing: Planned Parenthood’s $1-per-year rental agreement with the city of Austin.

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates rail against the bill as an attack on local control. The bill would “tie the hands of cities and counties,” according to Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director for Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. She also worried that the language of SB 22, which would limit “transactions” between the government and abortion providers, is too broad and would target more than just the downtown Austin rental deal.

During debate on the bill, San Antonio Democrat state Sen. José Menéndez attempted to add an amendment that would allow local government and abortion providers to contract on certain healthcare services, like long-acting reversible contraception, cervical cancer screening and protection, HIV screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

“Planned Parenthood is an important part of providing care for many Texas women and their facilities offer services that are essential to maintaining their health,” he said. “If we want to — and I believe all of us want to prevent abortions — the issue should be that we should prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.” 

Planned Parenthood of South Texas has had 33,918 visits to their clinics in 2017, and only 5% were related to abortion services, according to Sen. Menendez. But Campbell shot the amendment down.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, worried that the bill would prevent municipalities from contracting with Planned Parenthood to address public health crises like Zika, HIV and STD outbreaks. So, he tried to add an amendment that would create an exception for these cases — but Campbell also shot that down.

The state has slashed much of its funding for abortion providers in the last decade. The legislature in 2011 cut the state’s family planning budget by two-thirds in an effort to limit funding for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. Three years ago, the state kicked Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program and cut off $3.1 million in funding —and a federal appeals court upheld that decision in January.

However, these efforts only limit state funding—but SB 22 cuts local funding as well.

The House State Affairs committee listened to testimony on the House's version of the bill on Monday. Meanwhile, two other anti-abortion bills, both listed as priorities for Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, are also headed to the full Senate – including a controversial measure regarding the rare case of infants who survive the procedure.

This article originally appeared at The Texas Tribune.

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