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A hallway at the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Austin. | Photo by Callie Richmond / Texas Tribune

New Texas Health Executive Will Oversee Abstinence, Abortion Programs

As part of a legislatively ordered restructuring of Texas health agencies, the state health commission has begun advertising for someone to fill a new executive job overseeing “women’s education services” — including abstinence education and counseling on alternatives to abortion. The position could pay six figures.

The new Director of Women’s Education Services would be part of the newly formed Women’s Education Services Unit, according to a job listing posted to the health agency’s website, responsible for overseeing three hot-button programs previously run by a sister agency — abstinence education, abortion alternatives and funding for judicial bypass proceedings for minors seeking abortion.

The health commission is “repurposing” a position to oversee the programs that came over from the Department of State Health Services, said Bryan Black, a spokesman for the health commission.

The position is being created as women’s health advocates increasingly question the state health agency’s approach to reproductive health. They point to delays in releasing abortion data and maternal mortality data, a hefty women’s health grant awarded to a group led by an anti-abortion advocate and the proposal of rules to require the cremation or burial of fetal remains.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said it was “disturbing” that state health officials intend to focus “their time and resources” on a director to oversee abstinence-based education, when studies have found abstinence education is ineffective.

“The general overall direction of [the health agency], particularly when it comes to reproductive health, should disturb anyone in the state,” Busby said.

The state’s Alternatives to Abortion program provides “pregnancy and parenting information” to low-income women. Under the program, the state contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit charity organization with a network of crisis pregnancy resource centers that provide counseling and adoption assistance. State lawmakers regularly fight over its funding.

Through the Abstinence Education Services program, the state contracts with local groups to promote abstinence from sexual activities among youths in hopes of lowering rates of teen pregnancy or births out of wedlock. Health officials recently added language to the requirements for groups applying for contracts under the program that would prohibit entities even loosely affiliated with abortion providers from receiving any funding.

The judicial bypass program appears to be related to reimbursement for attorneys who represent minors seeking judicial bypass, the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

For more on women’s health and the Texas health commission:

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

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The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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