AUSTIN (AP) — More than 370 members of the clergy asked the Texas Legislature on Monday to boost funding for women’s health programs.

Leaders of Methodist, Buddhist, Presbyterian, Jewish, Baptist and Unitarian congregations lobbied lawmakers for more spending to help poor women, particularly with birth control.

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The Republican-controlled Legislature cut spending on health programs for poor women by $73 million — about two-thirds — in 2011. Experts predict that will led to an additional 23,760 pregnancies in 2014-15, all of which will fall under Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, and cost the state an additional $273 million.

Republican lawmakers are talking about restoring some of that funding this year, but routing it through primary care doctors rather than dedicated women’s health clinics. Conservatives oppose any funding going to programs operated by groups support abortion rights.

“The vision of a beloved community requires that all women have access to safe and affordable health care,” said the Rev. Valda Jean Combs of the St. James United Methodist Church in Waco. “Public policy that is geared to deny access to birth control undermines our common commitment to the beloved community.”

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The clergy also spoke out against efforts to restrict a woman’s reproductive decisions.

“There are those who would seek to deny women the right to tend to their own bodies, who seek to legislative restrictions on women’s health, who seek to prohibit a woman’s own reproductive choices,” said Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler. “They are seeking to restrict that which is holy, personal, private and intimate.”

The clergy signed a petition generated by the Texas Freedom Network, an organization dedicated to defending religious freedom and civil rights. The petition calls on lawmakers to fully fund programs that provide contraception, check-ups and preventive health care to poor women.

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