How Texas Got Itself The Highest Teen Birthrate In The Country

It’s not exactly rocket science.

Texas has the highest teen birth rate in the country, and an incredibly high rate of unintended pregnancies. Because that’s what happens when your “pro-life” legislatures cut funding for family planning and tell every woman to be abstinent instead.

Through her divorce and the struggles of raising three girls on her salary at the Sonic Drive-In, there was one thing in Tanya Wilson’s life that came easy.

Every three months, Wilson drove to the Planned Parenthood in her Panhandle hometown to get a birth control shot for free, most times with little or no wait. It was a great relief for a 34-year-old woman who didn’t want any more children but lacked money for a tubal ligation.

Suddenly in January, her relief turned to stress. Wilson was among hundreds of patients across 17 counties who learned that the clinic they relied on for birth control, annual exams, Pap tests, breast cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease tests and other services was closing because of funding cuts triggered by two little-known provisions tucked into the state’s budget last session.

And no, it’s not as convenient as, “Well she can just go somewhere else.”

She’s been pleading with the town’s only remaining family planning clinic, which has been picking up other patients, to see her. She’s one of many who hasn’t had a Pap test in the past year because it would require driving an hour to the Amarillo Planned Parenthood.

She doesn’t know how she’d get there. Besides the job and the kids, her 1992 Honda Accord smokes, leaks oil and probably couldn’t make the trip.

“I work, and I’ve got three girls already. I don’t need no more kids,” said Wilson, who is being abstinent with her live-in boyfriend because she’s a month late on her shot. “I don’t understand why they would close (the clinic). It’s just caused a lot of grief for a lot of women.”

Well, that’s exactly why they closed the clinic.

But Republican authors of the provisions, Sens. Bob Deuell and Tommy Williams, insist they intended to expand women’s access to health care services and counseling.

“Yes, Senator Deuell is motivated by taking money away from facilities that provide abortions,” said spokesman Todd Gallaher. “That is not the primary motivation.”

We intend to expand women’s access to health care services and counseling by cutting funding to places which provide health care services and counseling. Ok then.

It should be pointed out here that many of the clinics that lost funding don’t perform abortions, but they do run abstinence-promotion and sexual health programs and offer birth control to low-income women — all things which help to lower the abortion rate. But nevermind that little detail.

Oh, and this is coming from the state that the Alan Guttmacher Institute ranked 45th in women’s health care.

Before the changes, fewer than 20 percent of women eligible for state-funded family planning services received them, the health department estimates. That left as many as 1.5 million women without help in avoiding unintended pregnancies.

Now, the situation is even worse. But don’t worry — they haven’t forgotten that women are better off pregnant and “in crisis” than able to prevent that pregnancy in the first place.

The rider sponsored by Williams, of The Woodlands, earmarked $5 million of the state’s family planning funds over the next two years for crisis pregnancy centers. The centers counsel pregnant women about options other than abortion but don’t provide family planning or health services.

The health department estimates about 15,000 women will lose access to family planning because of Williams’ rider.

Special, no? Give more money to CPCs, which routinely lie and mislead their clients in order to push their ideological agenda, and cut off pregnancy-prevention funding so that more women will be forced to go to those CPCs (where, notably, they still won’t be given any comprehensive information about sexual health, and won’t be offered any tools — other than abstinence — to prevent a future unintended pregnancy).

The Panhandle, which five years ago had 17 Planned Parenthood clinics, now has two. Abstinence-only education, which is a profound failure, continues to be pushed throughout the state (and, hell, throughout the country). It’s stuff like this that makes me consider moving to the UK.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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8 Responses to How Texas Got Itself The Highest Teen Birthrate In The Country

  1. Sophist says:

    We intend to expand women’s access to health care services and counseling by cutting funding to places which provide health care services and counseling. Ok then.

    Do you ever get the feeling these people read 1984 and thought “Wow, what a great idea”?

  2. DSW says:

    This is my first comment here after lurking for several months: I’m originally from the Texas panhandle and its things like this that piss me off to no end. Should I be glad I escaped this environment or should I return to try and do something? Its much easier to be a liberal/progressive activist when there are lots of other people around who think like me, but how would I do in my hometown?

    BTW – this blog helps to kick start my brain every morning, thank you for what you all do.

  3. Dianne says:

    Oh, and this is coming from the state that the Alan Guttmacher Institute ranked 45th in women’s health care.

    Good lord! They’re five that are worse? Which ones besides South Dakota?

    Should I be glad I escaped this environment or should I return to try and do something?

    My free advice, worth every penny you pay for it, is to consider how attached you are to the culture in general and vice versa. Would you be effective in that environment? Able to cope with the negative factors and enjoy the positive ones? Are you willing to live with the small but non-zero risk of getting lynched for your beliefs? I’m from Texas too (Dallas, but I have relatives in rural west Texas near Oddessa) and the answer to these questions for me is “no”, so I left and never went back, but if the answer for you is “yes”, then there’s certainly a lot of work to be done out there and they badly need people willing to do it.

  4. JenM says:

    There was an article in the SA Express News about this legislation that interviewed women who had to find another clinics for their birth control. One 19-yr old who had been getting her pillsfor 2 yrs had just gotten pregnant in the month it took her to find a new clinic. The article specifically compared the cost to the state for the yearly supply of contraception vs the prenatal costs and hospital care – women who qualified for the subsized contraception would also qualify for the pregnancy coverage so either way state is paying, just spending much less on the prevention…

  5. It’s too bad they haven’t figured out what causes pregnancy yet. I sure wish the government would spend some money studying THAT for a change, instead of bombing the poor people of Iraq and stuff.

  6. Pepper says:

    Well, I bet that Duell and Williams are grateful that they can have prostate exams and colonoscopies and all those wonderful things that they receive from their job-related health care. Because they feel they deserve that kind of preventitive treatment. I bet they never miss a chance to get checked out. A poor woman at the Sonic drive-in, screw her, because somebody’s gotta serve up those burgers!

    Now that DeLay is gone, will it get any better?

  7. Yes, all will be well with the world and Texas now that the he-man wimmin hater is no longer in Congress assembled.

    Luckily, however, we will be able to place all those extra babies with Delay’s foster care farms.

  8. Bitch | Lab says:

    I’ll tell my I hate/love feminists and how I become something I hate/love later, but part of it was being involved in activist work to reduce the teen pregnancy and birth rate. Outside of NYC, our county in NYS had the highest rate.

    While the sorry state of Planned Parenthood clincis is awful, I just wanted to point out that I don’t think we can so easily attribute the problem to that.

    A quick skim of recent stats showed that, while among the highest, Texas has actually brought its rate down over the past decade. As I point out, the landing at the top of the heap this year may have far more to do with changing demographics than anything else.

    The problem with blaming it on the loss of Planned Parenthood is seeing the issue through a narrow white, middle class lens: assuming that young teen women are 1. not married and 2. got pregnant without planning it.

    Teen pregnancy is complex. But, one thing we know: it is inextricably tied to class (poverty and lack of opportunity), as well as racism. However, it’s also tied to sub-cultural mores and gender role expectations, expectations that don’t just exist only at the ideational level but are shaped by material circumstances.

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