Among the many things being tested in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks is the nation’s tolerance for dissent. The Bush administration has not set a good tone. Responding to critical remarks (“We have been the cowards, lobbing Cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away”) made by commentator Bill Maher on his late-night program “Politically Incorrect,” Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said on September 26: “Americans… need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not the time for remarks like that; there never is.” Various advertisers have reportedly threatened to pull their ads in the aftermath of Maher’s comments.
The limits of what can be said are being amply demonstrated here in Texas as well. In Texas City, as The New York Times reported October 1, The Texas City Sun recently ran a page one apology following outcry over a column, written by one of their own editors, which criticized President Bush. The editor was later fired. In Austin, UT President Larry Faulkner harshly criticized RTF professor Robert Jensen for an op-ed piece Jensen authored in the Houston Chronicle, in which Jensen compared the September 11 attacks to atrocities committed by U.S. forces against civilians over the years, including in Vietnam and Central America. In a letter to the editor, Faulkner called Jensen “a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy.” (No word yet on whether Faulkner will try to remove UT’s recently erected statue of MLK, who, some readers will recall, famously labeled the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” in a 1967 speech against the Vietnam War.)
Meanwhile, Fort Worth state representative Lon Burnam has been taken to task by Fort Worth Star Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy for his affiliation with the Dallas Peace Center and his opposition to the Bush administration’s call for war. “I don’t think his views match Fort Worth’s,” Kennedy wrote. “I specifically object to his assertion that I’m out of step with the district,” Burnam said in a phone interview. “I really think people aren’t looking for revenge–they’re looking for justice.”
For many women in the Lone Star State, the legal right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is a hollow one, because they have no way to exercise it. A new study has found that 94 percent of Texas counties don’t have a licensed abortion provider. And lack of access is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the study, released this month by the Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. After surveying 222 hospitals in nearly half of all Texas counties, TARAL found that even relatively uncontroversial services such as sterilization and emergency contraception are difficult to come by. In fact, 67 percent of the surveyed hospitals didn’t offer emergency contraception–even to rape victims. Less than 70 percent offered sterilization services for both men and women, despite the fact that sterilization is the most popular form of birth control for married couples in the United States.
The statistics on abortion access are even more worrisome. Not only did 198 of the hospitals surveyed not perform elective abortions, but less than half even provided referrals. Even more problematic is that there just aren’t that many places to which clients can be referred. Figures from the Texas Department of Health put the approximate number of licensed abortion providers statewide at 33. Sarah Wheat, the report’s project manager, said this creates a burden on women, particularly in rural counties. “We’re saying ‘Yes, it’s legal, but good luck trying to get one.”
Choice advocates such as Wheat point to a growing number of factors restricting access, including the rising age of doctors who perform abortions and the increasing number of hospital mergers. While such mergers have bailed out struggling city or county hospitals, they are increasingly putting public hospital management in private hands, which can have dire implications for reproductive services. For example, the Roman Catholic Church, a major provider of health care services in the U.S., recently banned any services contrary to church doctrine, including sterilizations, at its facilities. (The City of Austin, where the public hospital is operated by Seton, a Catholic Church-owned network, is currently struggling with this dilemma.) This trend, combined with the fact that Texas has seen more than 100 hospital closings in the past 15 years, means fewer and fewer choices–especially for poor women.