Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Planned Parenthood of North Texas: Lobbying for Women's and Teens' Reproductive Health

By Linda Magid

Every ten minutes a teen in Texas becomes pregnant.
Texas has the highest teen birth and repeat birth rates in the U.S.
60% of teen mothers fail to graduate from high school.

These are only a few of the statistics Kelly Hart and Dawna Cornelieson of Planned Parenthood of North Texas (PPNT) shared with the members of Texas Democratic Women of Collin County (TDWCC) at their January 26 meeting. Kelly Hart, Director Public Affairs, and Dawna Cornelieson, Community Advocate, gave an eye-opening presentation on the demand for reproductive services for low income women and for comprehensive sex education in schools, and how the Texas State legislature is getting in the way.

Planned Parenthood of North Texas has teamed up with Texas Freedom Network to create “Education Works!” a coalition to support the passage of comprehensive sex education legislation in the 2009 Texas state legislative session now in progress. This legislation (HB741/SB515) sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) will:
…require schools to still discuss abstinence but also require information be included alongside about testing and prevention for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and complete, medically-accurate information about the health benefits and risks of contraception and condoms.

Additionally, this bill includes strategies to encourage young people to develop healthy communication with their parents and peers, and help build other living skills such as goal setting and responsible decision-making about sexuality.
Quoted from PPNT website
No Texas school district is required to offer a sex education course. If they choose to, they must emphasize abstinence over all forms of contraception. At this time, schools are not required to offer any information on contraception at all. Study after study has shown that abstinence-only education does not prevent teens from having sex.

“It is about time Texas wakes up to the reality that teens are having sex. But we need other organizations like parent organizations and medical organizations that work with teens and any group that cares about this issue to sign on to Education Works! and support this effort,” says Ms. Hart.

Following the Planned Parenthood of North Texas presentation given by Hart and Cornelieson to TDWCC members in January, the TDWCC members voted overwhelmingly to join the Education Works! initiative.

Ms. Hart also discussed a PPNT lobbying effort to change budgetary restrictions hampering the organization’s ability to serve Texas women. In 2003, certain State legislators wanted to keep Planned Parenthood from receiving state money. At first, these politicians successfully attached a rider to the budget stopping any provider who offered or worked with a provider offering abortions from receiving family planning funding. PP took the State to court and won.

In 2005, legislators attached a rider to the Texas budget to send Family Planning funds to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQs). These clinics are typically located in the poor parts of Texas and serve people who do not qualify for Medicaid. While it might seem like the money is going to the right place, women are not benefiting from this change because 1) Texas as fewer FQs than family planning clinics so they serve a smaller community, and 2) FQ’s don’t generally perform family planning services. In fact, they typically send their patients with family planning needs to clinics like Planned Parenthood. So, the $10 million in women’s health funding given to these clinics doesn’t get used and is sent back to Austin, and women who need pap smears, breast exams, STI testing and contraception are not served.

In addition, women’s health centers across Texas have been forced to either shorten their hours or close completely. For example, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin severely reduced its hours in 2005 and will only serve certain women – the most “necessary” population. The clinic has yet to resume full business hours or services. Texas has 300 various family planning clinics in Texas but Planned Parenthood serves the highest number of patients. These other clinics, run by county health departments and community health departments, don’t have the money or staff to lobby their State representatives. And neither do low income women.

On March 12, PPNT holds a Legislative Day, bringing volunteers from North Texas to Austin to ask State representatives to support Education Works! bills. It costs $25 (scholarships are available). No experience is necessary, just a willingness to support this important bill.

http://www.ppnt.org/lobbyday2009.html for more information.

Listen to a October 8, 2007 Texas Public Radio report by Terry Gildea that highlights a missed opportunity when the 2007 Texas legislative session failed to pass a bill similar to this year's Education Works! bill that could have provided more resources for teens and parents.

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Linda Magid was Campaign Manager for Tom Daley, Democratic Candidate, District 3, 2008. Currently, Magid is Assistant Chair of a campaign development committee in Collin County.

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