Texas Anti-Abortion Politicians Attack Researchers Who Report Inconvenient Facts

by Dan Quinn

UPDATE: It appears Sen. Nelson and other anti-abortion Republicans got their pound of flesh. One of the state researchers who was a co-author on the report noted below is stepping down from his job. Here’s the chilling lesson for state workers: politicians don’t want to hear the facts about how their policies are hurting women and families. And when you tell the facts, you could be forced from your job.

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Texas Republicans apparently don’t like it when facts interfere with their political jihad against abortion and women’s reproductive health care. So now they’re attacking researchers who dare to report those inconvenient facts.

This month a report in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that Texas saw substantially fewer women obtaining long-acting birth control after the state dropped Planned Parenthood from the state women’s health program in 2013. As an Associated Press story notes, the report’s authors say the drop by about a third in claims for long-acting birth control — such as contraceptive implants, intrauterine devices and contraceptive shots — may explain an increase in births among poor families in Texas.

Republicans and anti-abortion pressure groups have argued that shutting down Planned Parenthood’s participation in the health program has had no negative consequences. Now they’re furious that people can see how the facts contradict their claims. So what are they doing? Attacking the facts and the researchers, of course.

The powerful chair of the state Senate Finance Committee, Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, says the report is misleading, flawed and “highly political.” She also has complained that two researchers from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission are among the report’s five authors. That’s right: Sen. Nelson is angry that state researchers are — *gasp!* — doing real research and finding out how policies she helped pass are hurting Texans. (The report’s other authors include researchers from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin and an Austin attorney who served pro bono as lead counsel for Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates in court cases opposing the state’s policy on the women’s health program.)

Texas Health Commissioner Chris Traylor, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, has also expressed his displeasure with the participation of the two state researchers. According to a report from AP, a state Health and Human Services spokesperson says the agency “completely agrees” with Sen. Nelson. AP also reported that the agency hasn’t said whether the two researchers will be punished.

It’s bad enough when lawmakers put politics ahead of common sense and women’s health care. It’s even more outrageous when they attack state researchers for doing their jobs — especially when their work reveals the negative consequences of misguided policies passed by those lawmakers. Shame on Sen. Nelson and the political appointees running the Health and Human Services Commission.

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