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contraception

If not Planned Parenthood, then who?

That sound you hear is another can of worms being opened.

State Sen. Bob Deuell wants Planned Parenthood’s clinics out of the state’s Women’s Health Program, which provides family planning services — but not abortions — to impoverished Medicaid patients. And he says a 2005 law should exclude them already.

But for years, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission has allowed those clinics to continue participating, disregarding the legislative mandate for fear that barring them might be unconstitutional. Deuell has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to clear up the matter, hoping it will free up the agency to push Planned Parenthood out.

“My primary motivation is for the money to go to the 400-plus comprehensive care clinics in the state that provide more than just birth control and STD testing,” said Deuell, R-Greenville. “People say, ‘You just don’t like Planned Parenthood.’ That’s right, but it doesn’t take credibility away from what I’m trying to do.”

[…]

While some Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas do perform abortions, those that provide family planning services under Texas’ Women’s Health Program do not — they screen Medicaid patients for breast and cervical cancer, STDs, and prescribe birth control, among other services. Since 2007, 40 Planned Parenthood clinics have received a combined $17.6 million through the Women’s Health Program, according to HHSC records.

A decision isn’t imminent. It could take Abbott months to hand down an opinion, and if he says the provision is constitutional, HHSC officials will likely enter a lengthy rule-making process. But state health officials have a lot riding on the outcome. If they adopt and follow the rule lawmakers intended — and it doesn’t align with federal Medicaid policy — they could risk losing big bucks: $18 million of the $20 million the state spent on the Women’s Health Program in 2009 came from the federal government, according a brief HHSC sent to the attorney general.

Planned Parenthood advocates say the clinics provide stellar reproductive health care and that they’re often the only family planning outfits available in Texas communities. And by all accounts, the program — launched in 2007 as a five-year pilot for impoverished women aged 18 and 44 — is effective. With just a fraction of eligible women currently enrolled, the program prevented 10,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2008 (through contraception and other family planning methods, not abortion), and it saved the state roughly $40 million a year, according to a recent HHSC study.

“There are so many real pressing problems facing this state,” said Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, an advocate for reproductive health clinics. “Why, when this has been working, and no state money has been going to any abortion services, are we spending the state’s time and resources researching this?”

That’s a good question. One might also ask who will step in and provide these services if Planned Parenthood is pushed out? Is Sen. Deuell going to provide replacement funds in the event his little crusade succeeds? Or is the cessation of this service an acceptable outcome for him as long as Planned Parenthood gets the screw? This is so typical of most Republican legislative priorities: It doesn’t solve any problems, but it sure has the potential to create them.

Maybe they should try abstinence-only

Birth control for feral hogs. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

There’s a saying that when a feral hog has six piglets, only eight are expected to survive.

That’s no joke in Texas, however, where the 400-pound beasts do an estimated $50 million in damage to crops and property each year. Texas has half the nation’s feral hogs, but they’re now found in about 38 other states, up from fewer than 20 states 15 years ago.

One Texas researcher had hoped to slow their rapid reproduction with a birth control pill, but that hasn’t worked out well.

Two compounds proved ineffective. One required a very exact dose to work, and the other wore off too soon, said Duane Kraemer, a Texas A&M University veterinarian and researcher.

There also are the problems of getting the hogs to take the drug, keeping it from other animals and ensuring humans who eat hog meat aren’t harmed.

And don’t even ask about the hog condom, or trying to teach them the rhythm method. Not a pretty sight, that’s all I can say.

OK, OK, it’s easy for a citified urban elitist like me to joke about this kind of thing, but feral hogs are a huge environmental and agricultural pest, and there’s not much we can do about them right now that’s helping. I wish Dr. Kraemer and his crew the best of luck in making progress on this problem.

The sad state of sex education in Texas

We do a really lousy job of it.

In sex education classes, 94 percent of Texas school districts teach that abstaining from sex is the only healthy option for unmarried couples, and, in many cases, students are given misleading and inaccurate information about the risks associated with sex, according to a 72-page report released Tuesday.

Two percent of districts — in a state that has the third highest teen birth rate in the nation — ignore the subject completely, according to the study.

The two-year study, “Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools,” was conducted by two Texas State University researchers and funded by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, the research arm of the Texas Freedom Network, which describes itself as “a mainstream voice to counter the religious right.”

You can find the report and all related materials, including some fascinating videos that demonstrate just how sex ed is done these days, here.

Researchers David Wiley and Kelly Wilson, who both teach health education, examined tens of thousands of lesson plans, student handouts, speaker presentations and other related documents obtained from 990 school districts, 96 percent of Texas’ districts, through the Texas Public Information Act.

“Most of the mistruths share a common purpose, and a likely effect, and that is discouraging young people who might already be sexually active from using condoms, a message I find shocking as a professional health educator,” Wiley said.

[…]

In the report, researchers documented at least one factual error in the materials received from 41 percent of the school districts. The study’s authors found instances in which districts used what they called sexist, religious and shame- or fear-based techniques during instruction. The findings include:

On wearing condoms during sex, the Brady district has told teens, “Well if you insist on killing yourself by jumping off a bridge, at least wear these elbow pads.”

The Edinburg school district policy states, “Students should be informed that homosexual acts are illegal in Texas and highly correlated with the transmission of AIDS.”

I guess if you think the only acceptable sex is married heterosexual sex, and that nobody needs to know how not to have kids, then all this makes sense. For the rest of us, I think we could maybe do a little better than this. Kudos to the TFN for taking this on.

And in a bit of fortuitous and not-coincidental timing, I got a piece of email shortly after this came out from State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who have legislation filed to address some of these concerns. From the email:

SB 1076 and HB 1567 require abstinence curriculum that includes instruction on contraception to provide scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and methods of reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. SB 1076 and HB 1567 prohibit these school districts from discouraging contraception use by students who are sexually active. This legislation does not mandate that schools provide sex education, but if they choose to offer a sex education course, it prohibits them from providing inaccurate information.

“While it is true that abstinence is the healthiest choice for teens, we cannot close our eyes and pretend we do not have students that are sexually active. We must equip students with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies,” said Van de Putte.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our children receive accurate information in the classroom, particularly when students’ health is at stake,” Villarreal said. “We’re dealing with a myriad of problems in Texas as a result of our sky high teen pregnancy rates. We cannot allow our schools to provide erroneous information – the stakes are far too high.”

The Observer reports on more such bills.

Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Mark Strama filed legislation, Senate Bill 1100 and House Bill 1694, which they are calling the Prevention Works Act, which requires that school districts notify parents about the content of their children’s sex education classes. Rep. Joaquin Castro’s House Bill 741 and its companion, Sen. Rodney Ellis’ Senate Bill 515, require health education to be comprehensive, age-appropriate and based on medically accurate information. “I know that sounds like a ridiculously minimal standard,” says Ryan Valentine, deputy director of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, “but it’s not an inconsequential first step.”

No it isn’t is it? Both of the Senate bills above have at least one Republican coauthor, though neither of the House bills do. Perhaps if we can tear our attention away from ultrasounds for a few minutes, we might get something that would actually help people passed. Click on for more from the TFN.

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