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Facing loss of state funds, Austin hospital district cuts abortion access for low-income women

Facing the threat of losing its state funding under a new law, the board of Austin’s Central Health voted Thursday night to stop providing abortions to low-income women, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

According to a resolution that passed unanimously, the board “continues to believe that all women in Travis County, regardless of income, should and will continue to have access to pregnancy termination services, it now must respond to Senate Bill 7 in light of the other objectives that the organization seeks to accomplish.”

The hospital district had budgeted $450,000 raised from county property taxes — not state funding — for abortions for low-income women, but faced losing all its state funding next year if it continued contracting with Planned Parenthood for the procedure, as it has since 2005.

According to the Statesman:

There was little discussion between board Chairman Tom Coopwood ‘s reading of the resolution and the vote.

Central Health paid for 720 pregnancy terminations in the past fiscal year, according to the health district. In its vote Thursday, the board included an exception in cases of medical emergency as defined by the new law, such as when a mother’s life is at risk.

Anti-choice groups had targeted Central Health, the only district in the state funding elective abortions with public money, in the last Texas Legislature, and a measure threatening the district’s state funding made it onto an omnibus health care bill during June’s special session.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/WayneChristian.jpegState Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center

That amendment’s author, Wayne Christian, R-Center, discussed the measure in a late July interview with the Liberty Institute, a Plano-based conservative family-values group.

Along with his support for teaching “American exceptionalism” in Texas public schools, Christian thanked Liberty Institute for its help with the measure limiting abortion funding, along with other efforts to cut state Women’s Health Program funding for Planned Parenthood services like cancer screenings and contraception.

Referring to a statistic form the Texas Catholic Conference, which said Central Health provided “nearly 1,000″ abortions each year — embellishing the district’s own figure of 720 — Christian finessed the number a little more. “It’s quite amazing, they were anticipating over 1,000 abortions a year have been prevented just in Travis County,” Christian said. “That’s life saved.”

When you at liberty Institute are able to bring the facts to the table, to show what’s happening, it allows me as a legislator to have the evidence when I go to committees and go to the others to prove what’s happening. because of the good work we did, taxpayer dollars will not be funding abortions in these counties. It’s Travis County, there were some occurring in other countries across the state.

But according to a July Texas Tribune story, Central Health is the only district in the state affected by the law.

As the Tribune reported, it was still unclear weeks ago just what effect Christian’s amendment would have on Central Health, since the district didn’t actually receive any direct state funding.

Central Health has hired lawyers to ascertain what effects, if any, the amendment will have, according to Clarke Heidrick, one of nine members of the hospital district’s board. The board will meet Wednesday night to discuss how to proceed. “We’re just not clear on how [the state] is going to remove funding from us, since we get so much of it from [Travis County] taxpayers,” Heidrick said.

Central Health’s general counsel, Beth Devery, told the Statesman Thursday it still “is not clear whether Central Health receives state funding. Millions are passed to the district through the state but actually come from other sources.”

With its vote last night, the board opted not to press the state for details on how it might slash the hospital district’s funding. Reproductive rights groups are lining up volunteers and raising money to minimize the impact of the board’s decision.

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