The XX Factor

The Texas Republican Defending Planned Parenthood

Pro-choicers rally in the Texas Capitol building in 2013.

Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Texas Republicans are trying, yet again, to undermine women’s access to reproductive health care in their state, but this time they are getting some pushback from within their own party. On Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis spoke out against the state legislature’s attempts to restructure the breast and cervical cancer screening program in the state to exclude Planned Parenthood, as part of the Republicans’ endless war on that organization. “I don’t think it is appropriate to continue to fund the women’s health program so that we can make some type of a political statement as Republicans that we care about women, only to chip away at the safety net of the providers,” Davis said during a legislative meeting. “If we don’t have the provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

The proposal she’s speaking out against doesn’t exclude Planned Parenthood by name. What it would do is restructure the way the money in it is spent, requiring funds to go first to public-run health centers and then to private but generalized clinics. Private “specialty” clinics—basically places that specialize in gynecological care—would only get money if there is any left. Which there will probably not be. It’s an attempt to undermine family planning clinics, and Planned Parenthood in particular. 

The remarkable thing about this story is that it’s so remarkable. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to read about a Republican defending Planned Parenthood’s mission of providing affordable gynecological care. Less than a decade ago, Republicans mostly left Planned Parenthood alone. Sure, they didn’t love that it offered abortion, but since the bulk of its mission is providing low-cost contraception, STI testing, and other sexual health care, Republicans left it alone. The war on Planned Parenthood (and other family planning clinics) is a relatively recent invention, part of the larger escalation of attacks on reproductive health care generally, including attacks on insurance coverage of contraception, which also used to be noncontroversial within Republican ranks. 

The word abortion gets tossed around a lot to justify these escalating attacks on reproductive health care. That is true with this latest attack as well, with state Rep. J.D. Sheffield claiming he’s not out to take away cancer screenings but, “Now, of course, this issue is going to come down to abortion, abortion providers, that sort of thing.” But invoking abortion was already a thin excuse when the attacks were on contraception funding. It’s getting downright ridiculous now that the issue is cancer screenings. 

Texas is not the only state where the assault on gynecological care for low-income women is creating tension within the Republican ranks. In Colorado, a program giving away free IUDs to young women who want them has led to a 40 percent decrease in the teen birth rate and a 34 percent decrease in the teen abortion rate. Naturally, it has anti-choicers incensed, and now they’re claiming that IUDs are “abortion” in order to kill the program. (IUDs actually work more like condoms, by preventing sperm from reaching the egg.) But some Republicans are pushing back. “If you’re anti-abortion and also a fiscal conservative,” Republican Colorado state Rep. Don Coram told NPR, “I think this is a win-win situation for you.”