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Texas lawmakers work to increase or limit access to contraceptives


After Texas passed legislation banning nearly all abortions, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made any hopes of reinstating abortion care in the state obsolete. Now, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are supporting bills that could increase — or decrease — access to contraceptives and sex ed.

“What I'm going to be focused on is around access to health care, to contraceptives and prevent unplanned pregnancies,” said State Rep. Donna Howard from Travis County.

Howard has filed the most House bills related to abortion, family planning and birth control during this legislative session.

One of her proposals would help minors afford birth control by targeting the Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP — a federal program for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

Currently, she said, the cost of birth control with the program is not reimbursed by the state so teens have to front the cost. But Howard’s bill would change that.

“When we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation and the highest repeat teen pregnancy in the nation, it is imperative that we provide opportunities for these young people to have the protection they need in order to avert unplanned pregnancies,” Howard said.

Other bills aim to address non-financial obstacles such as parental consent.

State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos and State Sen. Nathan Johnson, both from Dallas, filed the My Body, My Future Act, which would allow teens to access birth control at any clinic without parental consent.

“There are a lot of minors who maybe they do have parents that support them getting birth control, but they don't live with the legal parent or legal guardian,” said Eleanor Grano, the director of advocacy and partnerships at Jane’s Due Process, an organization working on reproductive health legislation in Texas that supports the bill.

There are also teens that may not have their parent’s permission, and Grano said this bill could help them take control of their reproductive health.

She said there are also separate challenges to accessing emergency contraception, specifically Plan B.

“Sometimes, pharmacists can decline to give it even though they know that teens have the right to access that without parental consent,” Grano explained.

A bill by State Sen. Bob Hall of the Dallas area would make this legal by allowing pharmacists to refuse dispensing Plan B.

But right now, Grano said, even in the most restrictive anti-abortion laws like Senate Bill 8, Plan B is protected.

“Legislators left in there that abortion is not emergency contraceptive and that emergency contraceptives can still be accessed,” she said.

Distance to a pharmacy for people living in remote or underserved regions of the state also makes it difficult to access pharmaceuticals, including birth control.

At a committee insurance hearing, State Rep. Claudia Ordaz of El Paso County introduced a bill that would require insurance companies to cover a year’s supply of contraceptive pills with one prescription.

“The ability to receive a 12-month supply will eliminate the need to return to a pharmacy every 30 or 90 days to refill prescriptions, reducing the possibility of temporarily not having access to contraception,” Ordaz said at the committee hearing.

Underserved areas, like the Rio Grande Valley, may also lack proper sexual education and resources, according to Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, the dean of the School of Nursing and the founding director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at Duke University.

Ramos spent more than a decade studying adult and adolescent reproductive health in the Rio Grande Valley’s primarily Latino low-income communities.

“The challenge that I think it's pronounced in the Rio Grande Valley is the absence of comprehensive sexual health education and services,” Ramos said.

Like Grano, he said oftentimes parents are supportive of their teens in preventing unplanned pregnancies but resources and access are a big struggle.

In his research, Ramos found that comprehensive and culturally sensitive sexual education was a huge component of unplanned pregnancy prevention. But four Republican legislators, including Hall, are pushing a proposal that would permanently allow parents to opt their children out of sexual education classes.

Additionally, some of the reproductive health resources that have thrived after the abortion ban are crisis pregnancy centers, which are funded in part by the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program.

Howard said these centers often have very little regulation or oversight which has led to the dissemination of misinformation.

“Materials that are distributed — that we have seen before — have had inaccurate information in them and are not scientifically supported,” she said.

In response, she’s filed a bill that would make it mandatory for any materials associated with the program to contain factual information.

Overall, though, Howard said there is a bipartisan initiative in the Texas House of Representatives to increase prevention.

She submitted a bill to codify access to all contraceptives, including Plan B, and added that she’s interested in lawmakers' response.

“What we are going to be focused on is how do we minimize the damage,” Howard said. “And how do we ensure greater access to health care.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect the number of clinics the My Body, My Future Act would enable to offer birth control to teens.

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