Point Austin: Making Women Suffer
The self-appointed defenders of life and family values are neither
– Clare Coleman, National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
I rarely use this space to call attention to another Chronicle News story – I presume readers who've gotten this far know how to turn the page – but I'm making an exception this week for "The War on Women's Health," Jordan Smith's excoriating report on the Texas Legislature's determination to use the current fiscal crisis as an excuse to attack public services for health care, most visibly symbolized by Planned Parenthood, the nonprofit organization that for decades has delivered below-cost health services for millions of women in Texas and nationwide. From our cover image and headline – "Toxic Shock" – you can tell the Chronicle editors consider this an important story. Creative Director Jason Stout designed an image to catch readers' attention and to drive home the underlying thrust of Smith's story: that the coordinated, hysterically dishonest political assault on Planned Parenthood is also an attack on women and the family, and beyond that, on the very notion of public health care of any kind. As Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards put it succinctly, "They are going after women's health."
Make no mistake, it's a nationally coordinated assault, as Republican (and some Democratic) politicians in Congress and in legislatures across the country file hundreds of "anti-abortion" bills that are in actual fact anti-woman bills, designed to make certain that women do not have independent, adult control over their own bodies or medical decisions. No matter how many times it is demonstrated that restricting access to health care and contraception in fact increases abortions, the anti-woman bills keep coming. "I sometimes wonder if the anti-choice plan is not actually to prevent abortion," Katha Pollitt wrote last week in The Guardian, "but simply to make it as awful as possible for the woman. Many of the 370-plus anti-abortion bills now wending their way through state legislatures are simply about creating misery, anxiety and fear – forcing women to view ultrasounds, see anti-choice counsellors, listen to scripts claiming falsely that abortions cause breast cancer and infertility, and wait, wait, wait for their procedures."
Such malicious laws are not "pro-life" – they're anti-life, anti-sex, anti-women.
As malevolent as this reactionary crusade has been, it has not been without moments of mordant comedy. Arizona Sen. John Kyl was nationally mocked for his floor declaration that 90% of Planned Parenthood's work is abortions (the figure is actually 3%), and then for his spokesman's defense that Kyl's lie was "not intended to be a factual statement." At the Lege, the spectacle of perennial House GOP backbencher (champion calf-roper and scourge of feral hogs) Sid Miller carrying the mandatory ultrasound bill precisely reflected GOP disrespect for women's rights, and Houston Democratic Rep. Carol Alvarado's brandishing of the invasive ultrasound vaginal probe made visible the actual GOP contempt for limited government.
The women reps are to be commended, I suppose, for holding their tempers as their majority colleagues enacted legislation explicitly reminding them of their second-class status (or third-class, behind fetuses). When the conference committee returns this abomination matched with the equally ludicrous Sen. Dan Patrick's companion bill, I recommend an amendment mandating unsedated, narrated colonoscopies of the men involved in all these unplanned pregnancies – and of the male legislators sufficiently arrogant to vote for these bills.
The Larger Imbalance
As Smith reports at length, all this fulmination about the supposed "abortion industry" simply provides rhetorical cover for the larger Republican project, undermining all forms of publicly supported health care, and most specifically those programs designed for women and the family. "[T]he funds used for family planning," Smith writes, "provide low-income women with guaranteed access to very basic health services – including annual gynecological exams, counseling on pregnancy planning and access to birth control, screening for breast and cervical cancers, testing for hypertension and tuberculosis, and screening for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV." Moreover, she continues, "In the absence of access to reproductive health care in Texas, the Guttmacher Institute reports, the level of abortion would be expected to rise 22%." What possible benefit (even financial) to Texas citizens can come from defunding preventative medicine; increasing the number of late-discovery hypertension and cancers; promoting infectious diseases and unwanted, emergency pregnancies; and yes, inevitably multiplying the number of preventable, late-stage abortions?
This is not "pro-life"; it is not even remotely rational public policy – it is male-hysterical, woman-spiting madness rooted in the reactionary conviction that "sex without consequences" (horrors!) is a secular heresy, to be stamped out by visiting those grim consequences on women (only) who dare to have sex without the personal permission of pomposities like John Kyl, Sid Miller, or the Pope himself. As a direct result of these illogical and misogynistic laws, more women will suffer and die, at greater expense to the state of Texas. Whatever else this legislation is, it is neither life-affirming nor conservative in any serious meaning of those terms.
Of course, during this session the Planned Parenthood episode can also stand for the entire legislative budget process, which purports to save health care by slashing funding for Medicaid and nursing homes, to save education by defunding public schools and firing teachers, to save universities by running them "like a business." In each instance, public services that have been built up over generations, paid for and shared by the entire community, are to be privatized and only available to those who can directly afford them, in the name of a political abstraction called a "balanced budget." But there's nothing balanced about it – it's a one-sided attack on the shared rewards and responsibilities of community, with the inevitable result that the rewards all go to the wealthy and powerful, and the weakest go to the wall.