The Year of Uterus Versus Them
In Texas, things can always get worse when it comes to reproductive health. And in 2015, they did.
In 2013, when the Texas Legislature passed one of country’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws, I wondered if we’d ever see a more destructive year for reproductive health in Texas.
Unfortunately, 2015 was just that.
Fueled by anti-abortion rhetoric, misinformation and politics, Republicans went next-level in 2015 with their attacks on Texans, and Texas families, who need access to reproductive health care. It was a year marked by unabashed support for draconian anti-abortion policies, pseudoscience, and targeted violence and terrorism. It was a year during which women, especially low-income women and women of color, continued facing serious barriers to accessing basic health care services, from birth control to cancer screenings to abortion. It was a year when we saw the first concrete consequences to the 2013 anti-abortion law, in the form of fewer clinics and long appointment wait times.
In covering reproductive health this year, I talked to dozens of Texans who struggle to get basic care, who told me they wanted nothing more than to be healthy enough to create and support the families they want. It’s hard to comprehend how, in 2015, so many women still can’t regularly see a doctor, can’t get the birth control or abortion services they need, or can’t get a regular checkup without fear of deportation.
And yet, all this seems to be the inevitable result of “pro-life” lawmakers’ ongoing mission of “protecting the unborn,” as Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, put it when she accepted Texas Alliance for Life’s “Courageous Defense of Life” award this year.
House Bill 2 Fallout
It has been 42 years since Roe v. Wade, and 38 years since the death of Rosie Jimenez, a Texan who was the first to die after anti-abortion federal lawmakers passed the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal health insurance programs like Medicaid from covering abortion. Yet, here we are, more than four decades later in 2015, and in Texas it’s arguably harder to get an abortion now than it was before.
Since the passage of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, House Bill 2, in 2013, abortion providers, advocates and nonprofit volunteers warned that the law would have devastating effects on Texans. They were right — 2015 saw more of their fears realized.
Nineteen licensed abortion clinics remain open statewide, down from 41 in 2013, before HB 2, and patients are waiting longer — sometimes up to 23 days — for their appointments as the number of clinics dwindles. According to the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), second-trimester abortions are expected to increase, and with that comes greater cost and risk of complications for patients.
Clinic closures, as well as the high cost of the procedure and travel expenses are just two of the reasons that, according to a November study from TxPEP, between 100,000 and 240,000 Texans have attempted to terminate their pregnancies on their own outside of a medical setting.
The fate of the law is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which will take up the ongoing legal challenge to HB 2 in the spring of 2016.
HB 3994 Targets Minors, Undocumented Texans
Conservative lawmakers celebrated this year’s legislative session as another five months of having “defended the rights of the unborn.” In reality, that meant leaving Texas minors who are victims of assault, abuse or neglect, as well as Texans without a government ID, facing what may be insurmountable barriers to abortion access.
House Bill 3994 largely mucks with judicial bypass, a legal process set up by the 1999 Texas Legislature that allows some pregnant minors, who don’t have a parent in their lives to provide consent for an abortion, to bypass the state’s parental consent law and seek permission for the procedure through the courts. While proponents argued the law makes necessary reforms to a process too easily taken advantage of by lying teens hoping to deceive their parents, reproductive rights advocates fear this law will further endanger already vulnerable young Texans by prolonging the process and compromising their anonymity.
The law also requires every person seeking an abortion in Texas to show a government-issued ID to verify that they are over 18, which will prove difficult for undocumented Texans who don’t have access to the necessary paperwork or documents required to get an ID accepted under the new law.
Budget Bump for Crisis Pregnancy Centers
As the number of abortion clinics dwindles and reproductive health safety net programs remain in limbo, the Alternatives to Abortion program, which funds crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies, saw its budget nearly double in 2015.
Republican state lawmakers appropriated more than $9 million for these facilities, many of which do not provide medical care and are virtually unregulated by the state. CPCs have been found by various investigations, including one in 2012 by the Observer, to offer inaccurate information and rely on coercive, demeaning tactics designed to dissuade women from having an abortion.
The nonprofit Texas Pregnancy Care Network contracts with the state to distribute funding through the Alternatives to Abortion program to 61 subcontractors, and Republican state lawmakers hope to see that number grow with the additional funding.
Restitching the Reproductive Health Safety Net
Women across the state still struggle to access basic family planning and preventive care services, four years after the Texas Legislature upended the state’s family planning programs in the name of defunding Planned Parenthood.
A state analysis released this year found that the Texas Women’s Health Program, created in 2013 after lawmakers excluded Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, is serving thousands fewer women than it was four years ago. Paying for services, trouble finding a doctor, and other barriers persist for Texas women, a reality that a new advisory committee must take seriously as it works with state officials to rebuild the reproductive healthy safety net that the Legislature destroyed. The Women’s Health Advisory Committee, which is made up largely of family planning providers and which was created this session by State Representative Donna Howard, will continue its work in 2016 and launch two new women’s health programs — Healthy Texas Women and the Expanded Family Planning Program — by July 1. Providing services to poor adolescents and undocumented women through state programs remains a challenge, committee members and advocates say.
Secret Planned Parenthood Videos, Deception, Violence
The secretly recorded Planned Parenthood videos released this summer by the California anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress were all abortion foes needed to launch an all-out crusade against the health care provider. The videos, first released in July, purport to show Planned Parenthood illegally profiting from the donation of fetal tissue and remains, but an analysis found the videos to be deceptively edited, and the secret nature of the recordings may violate the law.
Never mind facts, though. Republican federal and state lawmakers took the videos (maybe literally, as CMP appears to have offered them to lawmakers months before their public release) and ran with them, launching investigations into the organization’s handling of fetal remains (none of which have turned up any wrongdoing so far) and voting numerous times to defund the group entirely and therefore putting the health of millions at risk. The videos also gave fodder to Republican presidential candidates, whose support of anti-abortion policies are not only harmful to women, but their families.
But perhaps most disturbingly, the National Abortion Federation has tracked an increase in targeted violence against abortion providers across the country following the release of the videos. Several cases of arson and vandalism were reported this year, most recently at a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. Tragically, the videos and baseless anti-abortion rhetoric perpetuated by government leaders may have motivated a man named Robert Dear to open fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people and injuring several more. Dear, who has since been charged with first-degree murder, said “no more baby parts” during interviews with law enforcement after the attack. Later, at a court hearing, he proclaimed that he was “guilty” and a “warrior for the babies.”
Texas state officials and lawmakers have also used the videos as evidence to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program. State inspectors raided clinics, issuing subpoenas and demanding thousands of pages of patient files, staff addresses, and billing records. The exclusion of Planned Parenthood from Medicaid would put the health of more than 13,000 Medicaid patients in jeopardy, which is why Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates and 10 patients filed a lawsuit against the state in November. As of mid-December, Planned Parenthood is still serving Medicaid patients while the state’s investigation and court case continues.
Looking ahead, the fight to preserve access to basic health care will continue into 2016, even as anti-abortion groups and lawmakers forge ahead with policies aimed at ending access to abortion entirely. Lawmakers will undoubtedly continue their quest to defund Planned Parenthood, including here in Texas, where Planned Parenthood’s federal lawsuit against the state’s Medicaid ouster is expected to continue. As we get into presidential primary season (and as Texas prepares for the 2017 legislative session) expect more talk of fetal remains, Planned Parenthood and reversing Roe v. Wade, as Republican candidates promote policies that put people’s lives in danger — in hopes of scoring political points.To support journalism like this, donate to the Texas Observer.