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Trib Fest 2012

Texas Tribune Festival reignites the great debate on family planning in Texas

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Austin Photo Set: News_Alexa_Trib Fest: Family Planning_sept 2012_panelists
Tribune Fest Moderators and Panelists Courtesy of Texas Tribune

The last question posed to panelists at the Texas Tribune Festival’s family planning session best sums up the entire discussion:  

“I’ve seen this movie before,” the (male) audience member said to panelists and moderator Emily Ramshaw. “A couple of guys on the pro-life side arguing with a couple of women on the pro-choice side. Wouldn’t the pro-life argument be stronger if you guys do a little more science and less anecdotal stories that your grandmother told you?”

Family planning discussions in Texas all sound the same — women like Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, cite the importance of state-funded family planning programs and preventive health care services for all women to ultimately save money and reduce the number of abortions; and men like Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Joe Pojman, director of Texas Alliance for Life, ignore statistics and stick it to Planned Parenthood, making sure to use the phrase “largest abortion chain in the state and country” as often as possible.

 “What we want are healthy Texans who are school-ready and work-ready, and what we should be championing is giving people the ability to be individually responsible for reproductive health.” - Dr. Kimberley Carter

In many ways, this conversation was no different. Howard went toe-to-toe with her male counterparts on the panel about the notion that Planned Parenthood promotes abortion as a form of contraception, and Pojman and Hughes challenged Howard’s assertions that taxpayer dollars never have, and never will, fund abortions.

But in one way, this panel was different, and the reason was Dr. Kimberly Carter.

Carter, a physician and assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern who focuses her research on teen pregnancy prevention, added a refreshing and much-needed research voice to the three familiar faces on stage.

She used data and studies to back up her points, and she was quick to correct Hughes and Pojman on some of their rhetoric regarding family planning and contraception in Texas. Right out of the gate, Carter delivered a clear, firm answer to Ramshaw’s question regarding some lawmakers’ using the terms “contraception” and “family planning” synonymous with “abortion.”

“It’s bone-chilling to hear you equate abortion with family planning,” Carter said to Pojman. “As a physician, the terminology is completely separate. Contraception you would use prior to conception. To confuse the two is being woefully ignorant.”

Over the last several years, women’s health and family planning issues have become increasingly polarizing and political in Texas. In 2011, the Republican-led Texas House sliced the state’s family planning program by 66 percent, reducing access to preventive services for thousands of low-income Texas women.

They also wrote Planned Parenthood out of an important Medicaid-funded program that provides contraception and health screenings to non-pregnant women. They say their overall goal is to stop state money from going to organizations that “promote” abortion. They say it’s about Planned Parenthood.

But in their never-ending quest to defeat Planned Parenthood, their decisions have led to critical women’s health care providers having to close their doors and turn away thousands of women in need of care. Their efforts, Howard said, are not having any impact on the number of abortions performed in Texas. The cuts are only hurting and shuttering clinics that do not provide that procedure.

“All we’re doing is creating a situation where women do not have access to contraceptives, and thereby increasing their chances of getting pregnant and increasing their chances of getting an abortion,” Howard said.

Carter and Howard’s remarks got several cheers and claps from the spirited crowd, adding even more life to the heated conversation. Carter said the state’s overall goal should be to create an environment for Texans to lead happy, healthy and productive lives, and part of getting there is funding contraception, giving women all their options and giving them the freedom to plan their pregnancies.

“What we want are healthy Texans who are school-ready and work-ready, and what we should be championing is giving people the ability to be individually responsible for reproductive health,” she said. “If you really don’t want abortion, you should be out there educating teenagers, hoping that every relationship is one where both partners are adored and love each other.”

Now that’s something we don’t hear too often when we talk about family planning in Texas.

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