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Travis County lends support to Planned Parenthood

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

A vote on an item that has little effect on Travis County policy managed to pack in several elements of high drama at Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioner Brigid Shea co-sponsored a resolution proclaiming the county’s support for Planned Parenthood, the embattled health care provider facing a funding standoff with the state of Texas.

The measure itself is largely symbolic given blue Travis County’s standing in one of the most Republican states in the union. However, Eckhardt’s passionate remarks from the dais made clear just how personally important it is for her to support Planned Parenthood and the larger concept of choice in family planning.

“I want both my daughter and my son and all people’s children to have that choice,” Eckhardt declared in a emotion-choked monologue. “And I want all people to have access to the medical care necessary to make that choice in a fully informed way.”

Despite the enthusiastic applause in the courtroom that met Eckhardt’s passionate endorsement, the resolution passed with only three votes.

Commissioner Ron Davis abstained, while the lone “nay” unsurprisingly came from Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the court’s only Republican member. His explanation for his vote, however, set him apart from many of his fellow party members, who often cast Planned Parenthood as the central villain in their larger campaign against legalized abortions.

“Ninety-nine percent of what’s in this resolution, I support,” said Daugherty. He explained that he had discussed the resolution with his wife and that they came to the same conclusion. “I do understand the great need for Planned Parenthood, and I think that other than the abortion issue – and it’s unfortunate that we can’t separate this – but it puts some of us in a spot to where that’s not what my wife and I believe in.”

Daugherty’s stand against abortion is clearly rooted in his moral convictions, but his vote – like all things on the dais – has political implications as well, especially with the March primaries so close at hand.

Both men seeking to replace Daugherty as commissioner for Travis County’s Precinct 3 took issue with the incumbent’s position. Democrat David Holmes suggested Daugherty’s vote did not match his rhetoric.

“When you support 99 percent of something then vote against it, it’s hard not to see that as a compromise of one’s principles for political gain,” Holmes told the Austin Monitor in an email. He added that he had personal experience with Planned Parenthood. “I have seen up close the valuable and life-saving services that organization performs, and I would have gladly voted to support continued Medicaid funding for the health of Travis County residents.”

Daugherty’s rival for the Republican nomination, attorney Jason Nassour, said he agreed with the end result but criticized Daugherty’s rationale. “He’s misguided there,” Nassour said. “The vote shouldn’t be predicated on your personal opinion on Planned Parenthood. It should be predicated on what’s appropriate for county business.”

While affirming that he is anti-abortion, Nasour slammed the resolution as “sheer showmanship” and well beyond the scope of county business.

At the Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning, however, there was no shortage of support for the resolution. Sarah Wheat, vice president of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, testified alongside several other women in favor of the item.

“There’s a state-level effort to prevent our health centers from continuing to serve Medicaid patients, and we’ve heard from patients ourselves how valuable it is to come to our health centers, and we appreciate the support today to continue to serve them,” Wheat said.

After the vote, Eckhardt, Shea and Commissioner Margaret Gómez gathered with Wheat and the other speakers, along with several county officials and staffers, for a celebratory photograph in front of the dais.

Both Daugherty and Davis remained in their chairs.

Planned Parenthood resolution

Photo courtesy of Deece Eckstein, Travis County Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator

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