Finding common ground on women’s health

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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I serve in the Texas Senate among seven accomplished, intelligent, hard-working women. Four are Democrat. Three are Republican.

Four are pro-life. Three are pro-choice. But we all have one thing in common: profound support for the dignity, respect and health of all women.

Unfortunately, there is an organized effort to paint anyone who is pro-life as anti-women. Aside from being unfair, it makes it difficult for people who have divergent beliefs about the issue of human life to find common ground on issues relevant to advancing women’s health.

During our 16-hour July 8-9 public hearing in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, I was struck by how many times I found myself agreeing with those wearing pro-choice orange.

More than 3,800 people participated in that hearing — 357 of whom provided oral testimony that was among the most courageous, personal and heartfelt I have ever heard. I left the hearing room with a few takeaways, but foremost to me was the need for a stronger focus on women’s health and family planning.

Like every other state, in 2011 Texas faced significant budget constraints. The reductions for women’s health were, in my opinion, too severe, which is why I made those funds our top priority as chair of the Article II work group this session — which wrote the health and human services budget.

One of the first things I did was contact our commissioner of health to ask: If the sky is the limit, how much funding can our provider network handle to ensure low-income women have access to contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings and other preventive health measures? The amount he stated is exactly what our work group appropriated.

We added $100 million to support women’s health through the Primary Health Care Program, which provides services to low-income Texans who cannot access them through other health programs. This funding will allow an additional 170,000 Texas women to receive preventative health screenings, perinatal care and family planning services.

In addition to this increase, we invested $71 million in the Texas Women’s Health Program. Despite the loss of federal funding, we have enrolled more providers in this program than ever before. This month alone, more than 99,000 women are being served through this program.

We also invested $45 million into the Department of State Health Services Family Planning Program.

Through all of these programs combined, the budget over the next two years includes more than $240 million for programs that support women’s health.

I asked the lieutenant governor — and he agreed — to assign our committee to study our state’s efforts to promote the health of women and reduce unwanted pregnancies.

One area I want to focus on heavily is extending services to women in rural and underserved areas. Texas spreads healthcare resources over a more populated, diverse and expansive area than any other state, so we must continue to find better ways to deliver services in places that are difficult to reach.

Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, I think we can all agree abortion is a tragedy and we need to reduce its prevalence in our society. There is much disagreement over the best way to do that, but — believe it or not — there is common ground.

We owe it to the thousands who testified on this issue to find that common ground and unite behind solutions that will reduce unwanted pregnancies and improve the overall health of Texas women.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, represents District 12, including portions of Denton and Tarrant counties. jane.nelson@senate.state.tx.us

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