Beside the Point: Abortion Debate Hits Home

National attacks affect access to care in Austin

From this summer's congressional hearing against Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to diatribes spewed by extremist Republican candidates during the presidential debates, the national attack against the reproductive health care provider may feel like a faraway, albeit destructive, production. This week, however, Texans were reminded that the latest ideological battle against PP, fueled in its most recent iteration by discredited undercover videos (see "State Cuts Medicaid Fund­ing for Planned Parenthood," Oct. 23) is being viciously waged in our state, as well.

And for Austinites, that reminder hit even closer to home last Thursday. A resolution proposed by City Council Member Delia Garza sought to amend the city's federal legislative and state agenda to include lobbying support for any legislation that would maintain or expand funding for Planned Parenthood and women's health care services. Before Council, a microcosm of the national and state debate played out.

Lies and Revelations

Up to the podium came anti-choice representatives like John Seago with Texas Right to Life, who described the resolution as "unethical, imprudent, and misguided." Nicole Hudgens of Texas Values called Planned Par­ent­hood a "barbaric organization" that facilitates the "mass murder of unborn citizens." Aside from the ad hominem, there were blatant lies: For instance, more than one speaker claimed women could receive "exactly the same services" at one of the state's several crisis pregnancy centers. False. Most CPCs provide no actual medical care, but instead dissuade women from choosing abortion. And pointing to the city's federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) as a way to compensate for the void is not sufficient. As Sarah Wheat with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas noted, because PPGT specializes in women's health care, they can usually accommodate these patients much faster than a general-services FQHC.

Most memorable amid the hostility from opponents was a brave and unexpected personal revelation from one local official. AISD Trustee Ann Teich (speaking as a private citizen) described her reasons to undergo abortion in 1979. Newly married and on a teacher's salary, Teich, sick at the time, felt she could not embark on her career with success if she became a mother. "Emotionally and economically, I knew it was not a good choice," she said. "And you know what, God's okay with it." Similar to State Rep. Dawnna Dukes' impromptu public disclosure last year, it was the first time she had told the story outside of her immediate family.

Council members then shared their own experiences. Ora Houston and Pio Renteria's daughters relied on Planned Parenthood when uninsured; Leslie Pool visited the provider during a "tough spot" in college. And earlier this month, Garza penned her own personal story in the Austin American-Statesman about receiving life-saving prenatal care at Planned Parenthood. The cumulative revelations – from Dukes, to Teich, to the council members – even in largely liberal Austin – carry the potential for political retribution in the current climate, making them all the braver. However, as Garza wrote, the intimate admissions should not be a forced method of self-defense. "[S]top compelling women to feel like they have to share their private stories so they can protect themselves, their families, and other women."

A Human Right

In the end, the resolution passed 9-2. Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman – angered by the fact city health insurance does not cover fertility treatments for his wife – voted no. The district profiles of those who voted against the measure underscore the reality that the attack on Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers is not just a political issue, but one of class and privilege. As a provider of free to low-cost health care, Planned Parenthood serves marginalized communities – 79% of PP clients have incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. Policies that impede those services in turn hurt the most vulnerable.

None of the three Planned Parenthood locations in Austin are located in either Zimmerman or Troxclair's districts. Their districts also share in having the lowest percentages of residents living in poverty and among the lowest of residents living without health insurance, according to recent U.S. census figures.

It is no coincidence the resolution mentioned Austin's ranking by the Martin Prosperity Institute as the most economically segregated city in the nation; it is no coincidence that it included information about the high percentage of income spent on health care expenses; it is no coincidence it reminded that health care access is an integral factor in addressing the city's affordability crisis and should be considered a "basic human right." And so, perhaps it is no coincidence that those in largely affluent Austin communities would vote against the resolution.

And with that, the national debate doesn't seem so far away.

Michael King's weekly column, "Point Austin," returns next week.

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John Seago, Texas Right to Life, Nicole Hudgens, Texas Values, crisis pregnancy centers, Sarah Wheat, Ann Teich, Ora Houston, Leslie Pool, Pio Renteria, Ellen Troxclair, Don Zimmerman, Planned Parenthood, City Council, Delia Garza, reproductive rights, reproductive health care

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