Abortion

In Tampa, Fla., a week ahead of their national convention, Republicans are drawing up their party platform. There are muted disagreements over a few issues, such as immigration and same-sex marriage. But at least within the platform committee, one of the least controversial issues discussed this week is abortion.

With little discussion, the committee on Tuesday adopted the same anti-abortion language it included in GOP platforms in 2004 and 2008. It seeks passage of a constitutional amendment that would extend legal rights to the unborn, essentially banning abortion.

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

The state’s Republican leaders are at odds with the presumptive GOP presidential ticket on one key element of abortion politics — whether they oppose the procedure for victims of rape.

courtesy flickr.com/comedynose

Texas Governor Rick Perry has vowed that the Texas Women’s Health Program will continue – but questions persist as to where the state will find the money to do so without Washington.

Gov. Perry has tasked the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to work with state legislators to come up with the 30 million dollars needed to fund the program, which provides cancer screenings, health examinations and contraception to tens of thousands of low-income Texas women.

The funds are needed to replace federal Medicaid money that has been pulled out of the program due to a new Texas law that bars clinics that provide abortions or are affiliated with clinics that provide abortions from receiving funding. The federal funds have been pulled because Washington argues the law – designed to keep Planned Parenthood from participating in the program – is illegal.

Sherri Greenberg is a Professor at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. She told KUT News it’s not going to be easy to find the money, given the cuts that were made to the health department in the last legislative session.

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Two of the Legislature's top public health leaders are defending Republican lawmakers’ pledge to end the entire Women's Health Program rather than allow Planned Parenthood to participate. The joint state-federal reproductive health program provides contraception and cancer screenings — but not abortions — to 130,000 poor Texans, many of them at Planned Parenthood clinics.

"I guess we all need to see what it looks like when we don’t have it, and then we may need to regroup at that point," said state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the chairwoman of the House Public Health Committee. "If we lose the Women’s Health Program, obviously, it’s got to be the top of our list in 2013 to look at and open up the conversation again and move forward because it is a safety net for so many women."

Erich Schlegel, Texas Tribune

The pandemonium over Virginia’s proposed abortion sonogram law — from a Saturday Night Live sketch to furious protests and intense national media coverage — bears little resemblance to the battle over Texas’ version of the law.

That’s despite some striking similarities between the two states: They’re both Republican-leaning; they both have conservative governors with national ambitions who have headed the Republican Governors Association. But the political reality is that Texas’ abortion sonogram bill and Virginia’s abortion sonogram bill were debated at very different times, and under very different circumstances.

Though both states have Republican governors — Rick Perry in Texas and Bob McDonnell in Virginia — and Republican majorities in their legislative chambers, that doesn’t mean they’re equally red, said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/thestarshine

Texas has joined six other states challenging the constitutionality of the federal mandate that requires contraceptive coverage in all employee healthcare benefits.

A fracas erupted earlier this month when Catholic organizations protested a requirement in the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care reforms, that employer health insurance would cover contraception. The Texas Tribune reports:

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

If there was any hope that the state was seeking a compromise with the federal government over Texas’ Women’s Health Program, it’s fading fast. At the direction of lawmakers and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Texas Health and Human Services commissioner signed a rule on Thursday that formally bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other "affiliates of abortion providers" from participating in the program — something the Obama administration has said is a deal-breaker for the nearly $40 million-per-year state-federal Medicaid program. 

The rule, signed by Commissioner Tom Suehs on Thursday, takes effect March 14.  

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

Texas Gov. Rick Perry targeted what he called “left-wing, pro-abortion radicals” in a speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, blaming the Obama Administration for the state’s stand-off over the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

“President Obama has invalidated a waiver that provides health care for more than 100,000 women in my state,” he said, simply because Texas doesn’t want to “subsidize abortion.”

The Women’s Health Program is a joint state-federal program that provides well-woman exams, contraception and STD screenings — not abortions — for thousands of poor women in Texas. The majority of them have traditionally occurred at Planned Parenthood clinics.

This year, in an ongoing effort to force Planned Parenthood out of business in Texas, Republican officials asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a waiver — to continue the program but exclude Planned Parenthood from it.

Implementing the 'Sonogram Law'

The Texas Tribune has this look at the practicalities of implementing the state's sonogram law - which requires abortion providers to show a sonogram image and play the fetus' heartbeat for the mother within 24 hours of performing an abortion. Clinics say complying with the law has become a "bureaucratic nightmare".

At today’s City Council meeting, an ordinance requiring disclaimers at pregnancy centers was repealed. Pregnancy centers are religiously-motivated establishments that test for pregnancy but don’t provide abortions or refer to abortion providers.

But moments later, council approved a revised version of the ordinance, one they felt was on firmer legal ground.

Both measures passed on a unanimous, 6-0 vote (with Mayor Lee Leffingwell out of town for today’s meeting).

As we previously reported, the ordinance the council passed in 2010 required disclaimers at pregnancy centers stating they did not provide abortions, birth control, or medical devices.

The Austin City Council convenes today, taking up an agenda with 73 items on it. But one familiar face will be absent from the dais: Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who's busy leading a consortium of tech companies across the pond to London, England’s Tech City start-up incubator.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the council from taking up some tough issues in the mayor’s absence. We’ve got a quick preview of some of the topics council will tackle today:

  • Amending Pregnancy Center Language: As we reported earlier this week, dueling resolutions are on tap regarding pregnancy centers. Critics charge the centers imitate family planning clinics, but don’t offer the same medical resources, including abortions. Citing legal challenges to a council resolution requiring disclaimers at the clinics, the Law Department has proposed repealing the resolution; in turn, the original resolution’s sponsor, Bill Spelman, has a new proposal that would amend the original language.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/isnow

Two proposals pertaining to Austin City Council action requiring disclaimers at “pregnancy centers” appear to be on a collision course.

Pregnancy centers have emerged as a controversial concept in recent years. Medically-styled businesses that offer resources to pregnant women, the centers do not offer abortions, or refer clients to abortion clinics.

Critics have charged that such centers push an anti-abortion agenda on young and confused clients, and that the resources some clinics deliver are decidedly minimal – basic information, and referrals to other state or city resources.

In Texas, their emergence has become even more pronounced as the state recently released a dramatically reduced list of state-financed women’s health clinics.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/msjacoby

A ruling earlier this week affirmed that Texas can implement its controversial law requiring a non-medically necessary sonogram prior to an abortion while the law is being challenged in court.

Today, an order from a federal appeals court states the procedure can be required immediately, without the customary waiting period accompanying judicial decisions.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/meredithfarmer

Texas can enforce a controversial abortion law while it’s being challenged in court. The ruling came this morning from a federal appeals court in New Orleans. The law requires doctors to perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion and to read her the description of it.

The Texas Tribune’s Emily Ramshaw writes:

In an opinion, the judges said the measure's opponents "failed to demonstrate constitutional flaws" in the measure, which they said was "fatal" to their effort to prevent it from taking effect.

Photo courtesy of William J. Serson via Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/people/wjserson/

The City of Austin is facing a lawsuit from a pregnancy resource center. The lawsuit is over a city ordinance passed in April. It requires pregnancy resource centers that don’t offer or refer women to abortion or birth control services to post notices saying that they don’t.

The city was concerned that some pregnancy centers were representing themselves as medical or therapeutic counseling centers when they were religious organizations. The lawsuit from these groups claims that the city ordinance is violating their constitutional rights.

Image courtesy of Wilco.org

Williamson County Approves Budget, Holds Taxes Steady

Williamson County Commissioners approved the county's 2011-2012 budget yesterday. The nearly $127 million budget keeps property taxes about the same for the average homeowner even though home values are up. That's because commissioners lowered the tax rate a bit. 

Photo by KUT News.

Perry: A Presidential Profile

Now that Rick Perry's spokesman has made clear that the Texas Governor will be running for president, people across the country want to know more about him. During Morning Edition today, KUT News took a look back at how Perry got to where he is today, and how he may campaign for president:

“He’s got a tremendous personality. He likes people. He can talk to an individual one on one,” political operative Reggie Basher said. “He gives a good speech. He carries a strong message, and that’s all proven by his success that he’s had,  never losing an election.”

You can read or listen to KUT's Ben Philpott's entire profile on Gov. Perry here. Perry will be in South Carolina and New Hampshire tomorrow. Ben will bring us the latest coverage over the weekend on KUT 90.5 and KUT.org.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Comptroller Susan Combs has switched her position on abortion rights, from pro-choice to pro-life, she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune this morning.

Combs and her husband Joe also contributed $5,000 to the South Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center. Combs said the state needs to focus its policies on more counseling for young women.

Combs said flatly that she has changed her position on the abortion issue, moving from a "pro-choice, but not pro-abortion" position to opposition to abortions. "I’m unequivocal about it. I was wrong," she said.

Photo by KUT News.

Last Day to Vote Early

Today is the last day to cast an early ballot in the Austin City Council runoff election for Place Three. On the ballot: incumbent Randi Shade and challenger Kathie Tovo. So far 4.77 percent of registered voters in Travis County have cast a ballot. Election Day is Saturday June 18. 

Photo by Daniel Lobo, Texas Tribune

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a national abortion-rights advocacy group, has filed suit over Texas' newly-signed abortion sonogram law, alleging it violates the First Amendment rights of the doctor and the patient. 

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