Texas has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. It also has one of the country's highest rates of repeat teen pregnancy. And it has the third-highest number of HIV diagnoses, according to recent CDC estimates. And yet -- and yet! -- the Lone Star state's GOP-controlled House approved a budget amendment on Tuesday that would cut $3 million from HIV prevention programs and redirect the funds to even more abstinence-only education, the already ubiquitous and overwhelmingly ineffective method of (not) informing Texas students how to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
As if it weren't bad enough that the legislature aims to cut millions of dollars for programs that are clearly needed to boost public health, the lawmaker who introduced the budget amendment has been clear about his motivations, which are personal (to say the least). Via the Associated Press:
Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a doctor and the amendment's sponsor, at one point defended the change by telling the Texas House that he practiced abstinence until marriage. The first-term lawmaker said he hopes schoolchildren follow his example, saying, "What's good for me is good for a lot of people."
"What's good for me is good for a lot of people" is the sort of reasoning that almost makes one regret any time one has hoped for more government transparency, because it also simultaneously makes one want to bang one's own head against a wall for eternity. It's the sort of reasoning that already dictates Texas' approach to sex education, which was curtailed in yet another way on Tuesday night when legislators passed a separate amendment to prohibit schools from distributing materials from abortion providers. It is the epitome of how the state's lawmakers choose to address some of the most serious public health concerns, and it is not working.
The amendment still must make its way through Senate budget negotiations before it receives final approval as part of the state budget. The absolutely fantastic news for the millions of Texans who will be affected by HIV/STI prevention cuts is that both chambers of the state legislature are dominated by conservative wingnuts, so it won't be too surprising if the measure does, indeed, pass.