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Budget hearing draws impassioned opinions on abortion funding

Friday, September 10, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Both sides of the abortion debate packed the meeting chambers at the Ned Granger Building Thursday night to talk about the $450,000 tucked into the health care district’s budget for women’s reproductive services for the upcoming year.


Members of the Texas Alliance for Life were easy to pick out in the audience. Most wore red duct tape with the word “Life” written on it, with two members sitting in the front row with the duct tape over their mouths, not unlike the pro-gay marriage “No H8” campaign featuring celebrities. The message was that the Alliance would represent those who could not speak for themselves.


Central Health has proposed a $109 million budget for FY 2011. Property taxes will increase slightly – a first for the district – and a choice that financial officer John Stevens attributed to drops in property values. The tax rate will go up from 6.7 cents up to 7.1 cents per hundred dollars valuation. That will raise the same tax revenue, with the district pulling $10 million from reserves.


The protocol last night, as it is for most budget hearings, is that the board of directors did not address comments made. The only speech came from Thomas Coopwood, who laid out the ground rules before testimony began. The board votes on the budget next week, with Travis County Commissioners voting on Sept. 21.


An hour of testimony provided time for about 18 speakers. The camps that spoke to the board could be divided into the Texas Alliance for Life or Planned Parenthood, with a handful of those speaking not directly allied to either.


Last week, speakers from Planned Parenthood said a fraction of the money, only 5 percent, was used to perform legal, medical abortions. The estimate of the number of abortions performed each year was pegged at about 1,000. The figure of $450,000 is the same in FY 2011 as it was in FY 2010.


Dina Myer, the director of public affairs at the Texas Alliance for Life, offered comments that were echoed by many of pro-life speakers. Abortion procedures, Myer said, could not be classified as medically necessary and, therefore, should not be considered under the umbrella of health care services.


“These abortions are elective abortions. There is no medical reason to terminate these pregnancies,” Myer said. “These are healthy mothers with healthy babies. Abortion is not health care, and it is not a wise use of our tax dollars.”


No other taxing entity, on the state or federal level, uses tax dollars to provide abortions, supporters told the board of directors, which has offered no indication it has any intention of cutting the funding.


Other speakers offered a variety of arguments, with one comparing abortions to his tour of the Dauchau concentration camps. Both, he said, used convenient measures to rid the world of what were perceived to be undesirables. Another speaker asked the board members how they could sleep at night, knowing they had killed so many innocent children.


One of the chief arguments of proponents has been that providing women’s reproductive services offers women of little means, who may be desperate for options, access to the same services that others take for granted.


Marilyn Jackson, in one of the more passionate speeches of the night, said access to abortion made it too easy for women of color to choose abortion, rather than finding the help to raise a child. Jackson, who is African-American and running against incumbent Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), said it wasn’t true a generation of African-American men had been lost only to jail. A generation of African-American children had been lost to abortion, Jackson said.


“We need to stop killing these babies because we make it so quick and easy,” said Jackson, who drew applause from the predominantly white audience.


Sarah Wheat, who represented Planned Parenthood, noted the wide range of services offered by Planned Parenthood, many of them not related in any way to abortion. She expressed gratitude to the board and the community for their support of a non-profit that intended to provide a broad variety of services.


The smattering of applause was smaller for the Planned Parenthood side, but representation did include the local board’s former president, a staff member who read the journal entry of a young Army wife who had chosen abortion with the support of her family, a local lawyer who praised the variety of health care services offered during tough economic times and a devout Methodist, who read her denomination’s teachings that both stressed a respect for life but also encouraged a respect for an individual’s freedom to make personal choices.

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