TX Lawmakers on Reproductive Healthcare Access: Latinas Are 'Collateral Damage'

In a segment focused on women's health in Texas on Latino USA this past Sunday, Senator Leticia Van de Putte and Representative Jason Villalba spoke about the impact of the 2011 family planning budget cuts on Latina health. Van de Putte focused on what she calls the "collateral damage" of a Republican attack on Planned Parenthood, while Villalba defended defunding the organization and talked about the sonogram that changed his mind about abortion.

The stark differences in attitudes towards women's health could not be more apparent. This divide between the two perspectives is emblematic of the choice facing voters in 2014.

When asked about the impact of the 2011 budget cuts on Latina health, Van de Putte said,

"It's heartbreaking, it is a shame. Thirty-five percent of women of reproductive age in Texas are uninsured. And in areas of the Rio Grande, we know that 9 of our 32 clinics that offered any sort of reproductive health services were forced to close because of the budget cuts of 2011. Women will die, because they aren't going to get a pap smear or a mammogram. It's heartbreaking.

Education and education funding are key to advancing Latina health, Van de Putte explained, because reproductive healthcare was not only impacted by direct cuts to family planning services. When the education funding was cut in the same legislative session, "some of the first things cut in the school budgets were things like the teen pregnancy programs," and for Van de Putte this is unacceptable.

It is important for women to be educated about their family planning choices and to have access to reproductive healthcare services, because as women make healthcare decisions for their households they often put themselves last. Van de Putte explained, "It's always the kids first, the family first, and then if we have enough money left over, maybe I can go get a pap smear, maybe I can go get a mammogram." The budget cuts in 2011 (and the provisions in the recent omnibus abortion law passed this summer) are limiting women's access to these important services. "We need to make sure we don't put barriers to their healthcare access," Van de Putte said, "because we know that when women are able to access family planning services, they're able to plan their pregnancies, and plan their families."

For Villalba, who spoke out in favor of the omnibus abortion bill on the House floor, this is about a war on women. "Take a look at the Republican perspective: we don't do this as an attack on women's reproductive rights," Villalba stated, "We do this because we believe that we are in a battle to protect the most vulnerable in our society: the unborn."

Both Villalba and Van de Putte spoke to the focused attack on Planned Parenthood at the heart of the budget cuts on family planning. For Villalba, it was just about a responsibility not to fund the organization:

"The option that we gave the clinics was, you can either abandon your relationship with Planned Parenthood and establish your own clinic, or we're going to be forced to defund you because we already made this decision in a previous legislature under a previous law that we are prohibited from funding those clinics that have Planned Parenthood resources. So, that's what happened."

Van de Putte acknowledged that if the goal of the law was to attack Planned Parenthood, it worked. But the impact on women in Texas is unacceptable: It's the collateral damage they've inflicted while achieving this objective that is horrendous for Latinas, she said.

As Texan voters head in to 2014, this stark divide on who matters when we talk about healthcare will most likely be front and center.

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