HealthcareLocal NewsHarris County Creates $6 Million ‘Reproductive Healthcare Access’ Fund

Using federal dollars, the county plans to provide contraception, screening for STDs, and other pre-conception services to low-income neighborhoods.
March 16, 2023
Citing last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the Harris County Commissioners Court voted to use $6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to provide contraception services and education to approximately 20,000 low-income residents.

“Texas trigger law went into effect this past year banning abortion from the moment of fertilization with an exception for medical emergencies that, quote, threaten the life of the pregnant patient,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a press conference at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast on Monday.

“Providing an abortion, in other words, is now a felony.”

Approved Tuesday in a 4 to 1 partisan vote, the plan allocates $1.1 million to Harris County Public Health clinics and $4.2 million for grants to local clinics to provide “reproductive healthcare services.” Another $700,000 will cover the administrative costs of the program.

In addition to the unavailability of abortions, Hidalgo said the fund was needed because “those who have pushed for the government to ban abortion are also now pushing for the government to ban contraception.”

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Hidalgo clarified that the services provided would include contraceptives, education, preconception health screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and education.

Partner clinics will be eligible for grants of up to $1 million each and must target zip codes with low median incomes and higher social vulnerability index scores.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) explained that he had requested a Planned Parenthood facility as the location for the press conference announcing the fund because the organization had endured “relentless attacks.”

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, the medical director for primary and transgender care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said that the people of Texas were in an unnecessary predicament due to “years of attacks on sexual and reproductive health and education, a lack of comprehensive health education in our schools, and the recent gutting of abortion care in the state.”

Hidalgo noted that Planned Parenthood would likely not be eligible for a grant from the county since the program was intended for smaller clinics.

Last summer, the Harris County Commissioners Court voted 3 to 2 along party lines to find ways to “promote and expand access to affordable and no-cost contraception, sexual education, and other programs critical to the safety and wellbeing of Harris County women and families, including access to safe abortions where possible under the law,” but the new program specifically states that grants will not be used to fund abortion procedures.

Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision last June, crisis pregnancy center leaders reported an uptick in volunteer interest at facilities offering support for pregnant women, and in December Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) reported abortions fell by more than 97 percent even before the state’s “trigger ban” went into effect.

Earlier this month, five women filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas and Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming that the state’s pro-life laws have caused or threatened to cause irreparable injury. The Satanic Temple has also filed suit, claiming abortion is one of their religious rituals.

Although some lawmakers have proposed legislation to provide more exceptions to the state’s abortion restrictions, both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) have signaled that such revisions are unlikely to pass.

Texas lawmakers in 2021 allocated $100 million for two years to the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program administered by HHSC, and this year are considering increasing the allocation by $20 million.

Harris County has been slated to receive more than $900 million in ARPA funds and over the past two years has used the influx of federal dollars to create temporary programs such as a $48 million childcare initiative for low-income parents. County commissioners have also used temporary ARPA funds, which expire in 2026, to pay for additional prosecutors in the district attorney’s office.

In addition to approving the new Reproductive Healthcare Access fund, commissioners also considered requests from Harris County Public Health and the sheriff’s office for new health-related resources for the county jail, which could include more infirmary beds, a drug and alcohol detoxification center, and CT scan and mammography machines.

While the commissioners court unanimously voted to support a $5 million additional budget request from the sheriff’s office, Hidalgo balked at a resolution from Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) in support of state legislation to create six new district courts in Harris County to address a case backlog of more than 120,000.

Noting that the cost to provide court space would be at least $30 million and the ongoing costs would be about $17 million per year, Hidalgo said she opposed the resolution because the county could not afford the additional expense. The resolution passed 4 to 0, with Hidalgo abstaining.

Commissioners also approved $1.2 million for an electric vehicle pilot project, $4 million for legal defense for residents facing eviction, and $671,383 for legal expenses for several unnamed county employees “related to Grand Jury proceedings.”


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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.