Texas House Votes to Cut $20 Million from Air Quality Budget to Fund Anti-Abortion Program

click to enlarge Texas House Votes to Cut $20 Million from Air Quality Budget to Fund Anti-Abortion Program
After more than 15 hours of debate, the Texas House passed its two-year, $218.2 billion state budget early Friday morning. One of the biggest winners? Anti-abortion activists.

Two House Republicans, Rep. Mike Schofield and Rep. Matt Krause, successfully moved $20 million in two year's worth of funds from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality into the state's Alternatives to Abortion program.

Dubbed a "pro-life" decision, the move will cut programs that specifically combat air pollution and boost funding for religious centers that offer no medical services.

Texas' Alternatives to Abortion program (A2A) funnels money directly to "crisis pregnancy centers" — Christian-run facilities (often disguised as actual doctors offices or clinics) with a streamlined goal to discourage women from getting an abortion. Despite wearing doctor's lab coats, the staff at these centers, referred to as CPCs, rarely have a background in health care and are forbidden from conducting any real medical exams. In fact, some of these clinics are even located near an actual clinic that provides prenatal health care and abortions (CPCs, of course, provide neither), and many women enter assuming they've come to a normal medical clinic.

“It is shameful that the state continues to give millions of health care dollars to non-medical entities that lie to, shame and manipulate Texans considering an abortion," said Heather Busby, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in a statement released shortly after the House vote.

Texas already financially supports these anti-abortion centers. In 2016 alone, the state redirected $9.15 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to CPCs. And last June, the state gave $1.6 million to an anti-abortion organization to encourage low-income women to use CPCs for health care (and eight months later, it has little to show for itself).

Meanwhile, the state environmental quality agency (TCEQ) faces serious federal funding cuts as the White House threatens to slash the Environmental Protection Agency budget by nearly a third.

"What's particularly disturbing to me is that in a discussion around protecting the unborn, lawmakers proposed cutting a program that protects babies from harmful air pollution," said Cyrus Reed, conservation director with Sierra Club's Texas chapter.

The specific funds the House voted to cut from Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ) go directly toward improving air conditions in major cities, including San Antonio. Under the program, private and public companies with major truck fleets (for instance, a fuel company that delivers to gas stations) can receive new motors or entirely new vehicles that emit far less pollutants into the air. Reed said it's been "tremendously successful" since its 2001 initiation.

But on Thursday, Rep. Schofield argued that TCEQ has more money than it knew what to do with — money that, apparently, could be better used by anti-abortion activists.

House Democrats cried foul.

“I am not convinced TCEQ has more money than they know what to do with,” said Rep. Eddie Lucio, a Brownsville Democrat. And Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, called this funding swap a “grave error.”

“This would adversely impact the life of children,” Anchia said Thursday.

Liberal lawmakers suggested moving this money to family planning programs that offer contraceptives, another "alternative" to abortion, but this didn't appeal to their conservative counterparts. This budget now heads into a joint chamber committee, where Senate and House lawmakers attempt to produce a unified budget plan.

Reed stressed that these millions the House has proposed to cut from TCEQ isn't a done deal. "That number could go up or it could go down," said Reed. "There's no way to know at this point."

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