Reproductive Rights Advocates Prepare for the Fight
Groups, lawmakers relaunch "Trust. Respect. Access." campaign
By Mary Tuma,
8:00AM, Thu. Feb. 9, 2017
Reproductive health advocates, progressive groups, and state legislators are gearing up for another long fight to defend pro-choice rights under the dome this session.
At the Capitol on Wednesday (Feb. 8), a wide coalition announced the continuation of “Trust. Respect. Access.,” a multiyear reproductive rights, policy, and justice campaign meant to ensure women of all income levels, ZIP codes, and immigration statuses can obtain access to health care.
“Our anti-abortion state leadership and legislators, emboldened by the recent election have proven, once again, that they will stop at nothing to further restrict abortion care for Texans. Never before have our rights been at risk,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.
Texas clinic leaders and abortion funders relayed the struggles they and their clients/patients face amid the jungle of anti-choice laws already in place, regulations that exacerbate barriers for low-income women. Marva Sadler of Whole Woman’s Health said the laws place her medical professionals in a tough spot between trying to provide quality care and being forced to “practice politics at the expense of patients.” Nan Kirkpatrick of the Texas Equal Access Fund brought attention not only to abortion access but fair wages, family leave, access to childcare, and economic justice, factors “essential” for true reproductive freedom.
On that note, Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, shared her House Bill 656, which would give Texas employees the chance to earn up to 30 days of paid family and medical leave. “Supporting family values means supporting families,” said Minjarez. “Unfortunately, many of the same lawmakers who are against policies that guarantee access to a full range of reproductive health care are also not supportive of policies that would make it easier for Texans to care for their families, like paid leave.”
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, called on the Lege to support a trio of women’s health bills she’s filed, including HB 222, which seeks to decrease high teen pregnancy rates by expanding birth control coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Plan and HB 941, which would introduce a long-acting reversible contraceptive pilot program to high schools, with parental consent. Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy birth rates and the highest rate of repeat teen births, noted Howard. And an estimated 80% of teen births are paid for by Medicaid, said Howard, a hefty weight on taxpayers.
Howard also promoted HB 262, which allows doctors to avoid giving patients medically inaccurate information mandated by the state, such as the error-riddled “A Woman’s Right to Know” booklet, handed to women considering abortion. “The state is forcing health care providers to make, basically, Sophie’s Choice – either ignore their medical training and ethical obligations or be in violation of the law. That’s an outrageous demand,” said Howard.
Chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, specifically took aim the WRTK booklet. Her HB 746 would strike one of the “most egregious lies” in the book, the fallacious link between abortion and breast cancer. “Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer for American women and should not be trivialized to meet the agenda of anti-choice politicians,” said Farrar, who proposed similar legislation in 2015. The lawmaker is also looking to again repeal the onerous waiting period imposed by the 24-hour pre-abortion sonogram law, which tacks on expense, travel, and time burden to abortion access with HB 745, and ensure breastfeeding in public spaces is legally safeguarded with HB 742.
The battle, as always, will be uphill – pro-choice lawmakers already face 20 anti-choice bills in a session that began just last month. Bills include attacks on the surgical abortion procedure dilation and evacuation (D&E); insurance coverage of abortion; rules to force women to cremate or bury fetal remains, and an outright ban on abortion. However, advocates are uplifted by the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court victory over HB 2 and point optimistically to the high levels of renewed civic engagement and activism since the election of President Donald Trump. An estimated 50,000 Texans protested Trump’s misogyny during the Jan. 21 global “Women’s March” in Austin. "In the midst of these blatantly unconditional and harmful measures, people are rising up in opposition,” said Busby. “Over the last several weeks, we have seen a tremendous increase in activism across Texas.”
When asked by a reporter if their agenda this session will be “any more” effective than last, Farrar responded by reiterating the unprecedented level of activism around women's rights. “I don’t know what you mean by ‘effective.’ I think we’ve been very effective in getting the word out. So many groups have grown organically and are participating,” said Farrar. “People are waking up and showing up, and I think that’s hugely effective in changing public opinion. When you change public opinion you change the outcome.”
Groups joining the fight include the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, Progress Texas, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, ACLU of Texas, Afiya Center, Jane’s Due Process, Whole Woman’s Health, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Texas Freedom Network, Shift, and Texas Equal Access Fund.