During the final minutes of the omnibus abortion bill debate, Republicans and Democrats alike demanded that the legislature work to reduce the need for abortion.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who voted against the bill, and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who voted for the bill, both spoke of the need to reduce the demand of abortions by making family planning more accessible.
And at the urging of many senators, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst verbally agreed to make women's health an interim charge.
However, Dewhurst doesn't always follow through with his promises, and he isn't known for his honesty. Senate Democrats are working to keep him accountable to Texas women by requesting a study on family planning, sex education, and women's health services.
Read more about after the jump.When the regular and special sessions of the legislature end, senators and representatives aren't off the hook for the next year. The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor both issue interim charges to committees describing the work they must complete before the Congress meets again.
Recently, the Democratic Caucus in the Texas Senate sent a letter to Dewhurst requesting that lawmakers conduct an evidence-based study on methods of reducing the demand for abortions.
The letter was divided into three sections of charges: Researching women's health programs, evaluating the efficacy of various sex education programs, and improving state programs for healthy mothers and children.
The first set of charges reflects the recommendations that the Texas Women's Healthcare Coalition (TWHC) submitted to the Texas State Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report. The TWHC includes organizations that seek to promote preventive healthcare for Texas women. The Texas Medical Association, the Texas branch of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and Methodist Healthcare Ministries are all members, among many others.
The TWHC recommended studies on the successes and failures of existing family planning funding and programs. They also endorsed an evaluation of the effects of the severe anti-family planning legislation passed in 2011.
Although much of Texas' family planning budget has been restored, organizations like Planned Parenthood are still cut off from access to Women's Health Program funds. Dozens of family planning clinics have been shuttered since the implementation of the laws, leaving many women in rural areas without convenient access to healthcare.
The second set of recommendations focused on sex education, which the Caucus claimed “should be universally seen as an important tool to prevent abortions.” Democratic senators recommended that a committee be charged with comparing the ability of various sex ed programs–abstinence, abstinence-plus, evidence-based, and comprehensive–to reduce unwanted pregnancies and transmission of STIs.
Lastly, Democratic lawmakers asked Dewhurst to put his money where his pro-life mouth is: Make sure the children who are born in Texas, as well as their mothers, have better access to healthcare. The authors referenced extending the CHIP perinatal program to cover four more postpartum visits to physicians. They also requested that a committee study the potential for an English/Spanish campaign to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and STIs.
Typically, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor release interim charges to committees a few months after the official legislative session ends. Later, committees submit reports summarizing their research and recommendations. Those reports are written to guide the creation of bills during that legislative session.
Even after the series of onslaughts on family planning programs in 2011, neither Straus nor Dewhurst charged committees with specifically researching the effects of the policies.
If Dewhurst follows through with his promise to implement interim charges to investigate the improvement women's health, it could lead to significant policy changes in the next legislative session.
Just because Texas is one of four states with biennial legislative sessions doesn't mean we can let our representatives take a year-long vacation. Now is the time for voters and politicians alike to call for changes in healthcare policy.