When lawmakers in Austin discuss women’s health care access, often the voices of those most affected go unheard and unheeded.
Last week, women, students and advocates from across the state, braving nasty winter weather, came to the Capitol to change that. Wearing matching orange-and-white T-shirts, they came from the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso and North Texas. Women (and a few men) met with lawmakers and rallied for laws that promote comprehensive sex education in public schools and access to women’s health care services, including contraception and abortion. The events were part of the official launch of the multi-year Trust. Respect. Access. reproductive health campaign.
Over the last several legislative sessions, conservative lawmakers have chipped away at access to birth control and abortion in Texas, contending that they are promoting the health and safety of Texas women. In 2011, on top of a nearly $70 million cut to the state family planning program that forced more than 50 health care centers to close, the Texas Legislature passed laws imposing a 24-hour waiting period and mandatory ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. In 2013, the Legislature passed House Bill 2, the sweeping omnibus abortion legislation that led to the closure, so far, of nearly half the abortion clinics in Texas.
The campaign, spearheaded by a coalition of six organizations, is a long-term effort to roll back some of these restrictive health care laws while also promoting “pro-active” legislation, including bills that require medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education in public schools.
The Observer spoke with five women about how women’s health care in the Lone Star State has played a role in their lives and communities:
Nikki Vogel is a social work graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She credits the relationship counseling she and her boyfriend received at Planned Parenthood as one of the reasons their marriage got off to a strong start.
Sofia Peña, a 27-year-old University of Texas Rio Grande Valley student who lives in McAllen, says the abortion she had helped her to stay in school. South Texas lost nine of its 32 family planning clinics due to 2011 budget cuts to the state family planning program, and the remaining abortion clinic will close if House Bill 2 takes full effect.
Maria Villanueva, a 30-year-old single mother from El Paso with an 11-year-old daughter, says her parents didn’t talk to her about sex growing up and she didn’t learn about contraception in school. She wants her daughter to get better sex education instruction in the classroom.
Autumn Tyler goes to the University of North Texas in Denton. As an African-American woman, she says she would be disproportionately affected by Texas laws that limit access to health care services for poor, uninsured women.
Mimosa Thomas, a 19-year-old college student from Corpus Christi, says the high school she went to had a daycare center for students’ children. Texas leads the country in repeat teen births.
Advocates and Democratic lawmakers insist that while they may not have the votes this session to pass such policies, they’re not going anywhere.
“We have endured tremendous political interference in Texas, and this interference has eroded the infrastructure of care delivery across our state that took decades to build,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, told the crowd at the rally on Thursday. “We are in it for the long run.”