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Religious Leaders Urge Funding for Family Planning, Birth Control

Austin American-StatesmanMarch 4, 2013Articles

Dozens of clergy members took to the Capitol on Monday to ask the Legislature to restore family planning funding and to counter assertions that all religious leaders support those cuts.

“Faithful religious people from all over Texas care about women’s health, and precisely because of their faith convictions, support access to family planning and birth control,” said Pastor Larry Bethune of the University Baptist Church in Austin.

Representatives of the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Universalist and Jewish faiths spoke at a prayer service in the Capitol Extension Rotunda, emphasizing that the cause had broad support across religions.

In February, Texas Freedom Network, a religious watchdog group,released a poll showing that almost three-quarters of registered voters in Texas supported state funding for the family planning services of low-income women. Their research highlighted religious trends, showing that 66 percent of born-again Christians and 70 percent of Catholics “somewhat” or “strongly” supported the funding.

Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler called the service a way to “counter the lopsided amount of energy that the Christian right has on this issue.”

“The truth is, the majority of the religious community does support this,” he said. “We’re just the silent majority.”

In 2011, the Legislature cut more than $70 million of the state’s family planning budget. State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said the move was motivated by concerns from “the majority of Texans” that public money would not go to groups affiliated with abortion providers. State law already prohibits using taxpayer money for abortions, but two years ago lawmakers cut funding to groups, such as Planned Parenthood, whose affiliates provide abortions.

A Senate Finance Committee work group has recommended adding more than $100 million to fund women’s health through primary care. Hughes said that while no final decisions have been made, members of the House are discussing ways to add the funding while ensuring that safeguards prevent public money from reaching groups that directly or indirectly support abortions.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said that she is “grateful” for the potential funding, but it is still not clear if those funds will help replace last session’s cuts.

“Only time will tell how that money gets directed,” she said.

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