By Bob Allen
More than 50 Texas faith leaders called on Gov. Greg Abbott to reinstate Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood in an open letter released Dec. 10.
Abbott, a Republican elected after former Gov. Rick Perry decided not to seek a fourth term in 2014, announced in October that Texas would cut funding to the women’s health provider in light of controversial undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue obtained by abortion.
“The gruesome harvesting of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood will not be allowed in Texas, and the barbaric practice must be brought to an end,” Abbott said in a statement announcing the move.
An open letter signed by 53 progressive clergy protested the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.
“United in our shared commitment to justice and religious freedom, we affirm the right of all women across Texas to make their own health care decisions,” said the letter organized by Just Texas, a project of the Texas Freedom Network. “Eliminating Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood denies women and families that freedom and leaves many of our state’s most vulnerable women without access to basic health care.”
Formed after the Texas Legislature adopted one of the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws in 2013, Just Texas believes women, and not politicians, should be the decision-makers when it comes to their own reproductive health and that access to comprehensive and affordable reproductive health services “is a moral and social good.”
“Women have a moral and legal right to decide for themselves which health care providers they will see,” said Valda Jean Combs, an associate minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston and member of the Just Texas Advisory Committee. “As faith leaders in our communities, we cannot be silent when politicians interfere with that freedom and risk leaving vulnerable women without access to the basic care they need and deserve.”
Other signatories include Larry Bethune, senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, and Amelia Fulbright, founding minister and executive director of Labyrinth Progressive Student Ministry, an ecumenical Christian community at the University of Texas, who also is on the Just Texas Advisory Committee.
“Ensuring that everyone has access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, including affordable family planning and safe, legal abortion care, is a moral and social good, but every year in Texas we see more efforts to limit that access by cutting funding, restricting providers and enacting medically unnecessary requirements that shut down clinics,” said Fulbright, who previously served five years as associate pastor at University Baptist Church.
Originally a Southern Baptist church, University Baptist Church voted in 1997 to disaffiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention. Kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas for affirming homosexuality in 1998, the church is now affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and American Baptist Churches, USA.
During the 1990s University Baptist Church became affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but withdrew in 2001 after the CBF adopted a policy against funding organizations or causes that condone or affirm homosexual practices.