The Dec. 10 special meeting of the board drew an overflow crowd of about 200 people who were "easily two-to-one in our favor," said Jonathan Saenz, Austin-based legislative affairs director for the Free Market Foundation, who spoke against funding for three abortion providers: Whole Woman's Health of Austin, the Austin Women's Health Center and Planned Parenthood.
Free Market Foundation was among a coalition of Austin pro-life groups that held a news conference on Thursday urging the health board not to renew the funding.
"We think the outcome of the hearing last night is the height of bad government," Saenz told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. "Essentially, Travis County Central Health bowed to the pressure of Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby and totally ignored the outcry of nearly 10,000 Travis County residents."
Travis County is the only Texas county that funds abortions with public money. Texas law forbids state public money from paying for abortions, and the Hyde Amendment has provided similar protections at the federal level, with pro-life groups closely watching the federal health care bill to see if such protections survive.
"Going forward, what's encouraging is that in less than two weeks we were able to get the petition circulated and gained the support of 10,000 residents, so imagine what could be done with more time. We are encouraging people to continue signing the petition. We'll have a link to it at our website (www.freemarket.org). And we encourage people to educate their friends and neighbors on why this is a misuse of taxpayer money so we can stop this from happening in the future."
The members of the Central Health Board are appointed by the elected Travis County Commissioners, Saenz noted.
"This issue has opened the eyes of voters. You can expect that people will make their voices heard at the polls with their disapproval and disappointment of this vote," Saenz said.
During the meeting, health board members admitted that in 2004 when the contracts were first approved with the clinics, they didn't know the money would be used for abortions. "But having said that," Saenz said, "they still felt like they had to continue the funding."
According to the Austin American-Statesman, 621 women received abortions through the county funding last fiscal year at a cost of $251,180, or approximately $400 per abortion.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey conducted in November showed 61 percent of respondents disapproved of public funding of abortion for poor women, while 37 percent favored it.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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