Barry Goldwater Republicans

09.04.13

Planned Parenthood’s Rich Red-State Backers

With his $1 million gift to Texas’s largest Planned Parenthood chapter, Ross Perot is just the latest in a long line of Texas conservatives quietly supporting family planning.

Planned Parenthood has more friends in deep-red Texas than you might think. The announcement last week that Ross Perot’s family foundation was giving $1 million to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas—one of the 10 largest gifts in the affiliate’s history—is just the latest sign that, despite the ceaseless political assault on the women’s health organization, it still has powerful support, even in one of the most conservative parts of the country.

In fact, in June, the same Planned Parenthood affiliate—the state’s largest, serving Dallas, Austin, Waco, and the surrounding areas—received $6.5 million from a Republican family that wishes to remain anonymous. And this summer Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas inaugurated a new 15,000-square-foot facility in Ft. Worth, funded entirely by millions in private donations. It’s equipped to perform abortions even under the strict new regulations that Gov. Rick Perry recently signed into law, which means that the state will have six abortion clinics instead of five.

“We’re very fortunate to have very prominent old Republican and Democratic families continue to support us,” says Ken Lambrecht, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’s President and CEO. “Multiple generations of those families. That’s what’s so amazingly reassuring.” His affiliate, he says, has more Republican donors than any other in the country.

In a way, it’s not surprising. Before the rise of the religious right, Planned Parenthood had deep support among bipartisan elites, including committed conservatives. Some were motivated by concern for the health of poor women; others by fear of overpopulation and concern about a social safety net strained by unwanted children. “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition,” Richard Nixon declared in a 1969 “Special Message to the Congress on Problems of Population Growth.” Barry Goldwater was an ardent Planned Parenthood supporter whose wife was a founding member of the group’s Arizona state affiliate. As a Texas congressman, George H.W. Bush was so obsessed with family planning that he was nicknamed “rubbers.”

Rich Republican donors to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas have made up for the budget shortfall caused by Republican politicians.

Some of that spirit lives on, quietly, in the state. “These truly are the Barry Goldwater Republicans who believe in lesser government, including less government intrusion in our personal lives,” says Lambrecht.

The Perot family has long been among them. Reporting on the war on Planned Parenthood in Texas last year, I interviewed Suzanne Perot McGee, Ross Perot’s daughter. A member of its North Texas community board, she’s a longtime backer of the organization, as are her mother and three sisters. Planned Parenthood, she said then, “does more than any other group to prevent unplanned pregnancies,” she told me then. “That’s the real reason why I am a big supporter of Planned Parenthood and always will be.”

At the time, the state was in the process of cutting family-planning funds by two thirds and directing the remainder away from Planned Parenthood. Perot McGee’s husband, Patrick McGee, a co-founder of Brazos Private Equity Partners, saw the move as economic self-sabotage. “I’m a very staunch Republican,” he said. “You run through the math, this is probably the best economic model that provides health care to women around. Why wouldn’t the Republican Party embrace that?”

For now, rich Republican donors to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas have made up for the budget shortfall caused by Republican politicians. As a result of the state’s funding cuts, says Lambrecht, the affiliate has lost between $6 million and $8 million since 2011. Together, the Perot Foundation and the other anonymous Republican donor have given $7.5 million in just the last couple of months.

Still, says Lambrecht, their generosity can never replace government funding. “It’s not sustainable,” he says. “It’s not gifts that we can raise every single year.” Already, there’s evidence that large numbers of women in the state aren’t getting the care they need. Claims to a Texas program to provide women’s health care are down 23 percent since the defunding of Planned Parenthood last year, and Lambrecht says that when women are denied subsidized services once, they often don’t come back, even if new funding appears. “Regardless of us being able to replace the funds for a finite period,” he says, “the real story is the women who aren’t going to come in.”