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Women Must Have Access to the Health Care Necessary to Prevent Unwanted Pregnancies | Commentary

Something historic is happening in Texas. Recently, the Texas Legislature approved an outrageous bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks with only narrow exceptions and shut down many health clinics. Yet Republicans’ unrelenting attacks on women’s choices have hit a nerve, and women across Texas are standing up to protect their rights in staggering numbers.

Texas Republicans’ actions are insincere and will hinder women’s access to health care. If Republicans truly wanted to reduce abortions in Texas, they would invest in reproductive health care and comprehensive sexual education across the state. Yet the anti-choice legislation under consideration could forcibly close three dozen licensed health centers in Texas where women may receive abortions, reproductive health services and cancer screenings.

I am not pro-abortion, but I do believe a woman should be able to make intensely personal decisions about her pregnancy with the counsel of her doctor, her family and her faith — and without the interference of politicians. The Constitution guarantees all of us a right to privacy and freedom of religion. I believe a woman must be free to make the difficult decision about the future of her pregnancy in conjunction with her family and health care professionals. Women must also have access to the information and health care necessary to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Women who are knowledgeable about reproductive health and have access to contraception are more likely to avoid unwanted pregnancies, precluding the need for many abortions. Texas Republicans have not connected the dots.

Instead of supporting access to reproductive health care, Republicans chose to cut the state’s family-planning budget by two-thirds in 2011. These cuts were projected to cause 284,000 women to lose access to family-planning services and to add $273 million in costs to taxpayers because of unplanned pregnancies in Texas.

Texas has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate of any state in the country, but Republicans have consistently opposed one of the best tools we have to reduce teen pregnancy: comprehensive sex education. Comprehensive sex education programs are demonstrably effective in helping youth delay sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase the use of contraception. In fact, researchers using data from the National Survey of Family Growth found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to get pregnant than teens who received abstinence-only education.

So why aren’t Texas Republicans actively supporting access to education and reproductive health care? Their ideology seems to be getting in the way of our rights and our lives. Republicans’ refusal to allow Texas women to access education, receive reproductive health care and make decisions about our health defies reason, science and our constitutional rights. It is truly unacceptable.

Instead of inserting government policies into our personal lives, Republicans should be working to expand, rather than curb, family-planning services and sex education. I hope Republicans in the state legislature have a change of heart in response to the groundswell of support for women’s rights that we have seen in Texas. Texas women deserve it.

Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is the 11-term representative of Texas’ 30th District.

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