One of my many writing assignments of late has been to examine the cause and effect of a public policy. I could have written about gun legislation in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook Shooting, but frankly, the correlation between the number of bullets a shooter has and how many people are killed seems obvious. People struggling to piece their lives together after a tragedy deserve more than reactionary legislation. A pound of cure, which isn’t really a cure at all, is beneath the dignity of an advanced society, but that seems to be the most we can expect because prevention comes in too small an increment. Plus, there’s no money it.
I could have written about Oregon’s Dignity with Death Act, but that issue seems cut and dry. People who are terminally ill may want to breathe every last breath fighting for a scientific breakthrough. They may want to hold on to hope with all their strength for an eleventh hour cure. Then again, they may want to face the inevitable on their own terms and spare themselves and their loved ones enormous suffering and financial burden. Of course it is a difficult personal choice to have to make.
The key being that it is personal choice.
This brings me to the public policy I did choose, women’s reproductive health policy in Texas. To better understand the cause of the most recent legislation, a little background is in order. The traditionalistic culture in Texas is largely influenced by the period of westward expansion which took place during the 19th century. During that time, Comstock laws prohibited women from having control of their reproductive health. The prevailing attitude in Texas is that government should be minimally intrusive to people’s lives; however, this does not appear to apply to Texas women. Historically Texas legislators have gone to great lengths to restrict women’s rights. In most recent years, they have managed to drastically intrude with the stated goal, of course, to protect women and children.
Texas has a population of approximately 27 million. Agriculture is a mainstay in the Texas economy, but land-based industries of the past — cotton, oil, timber, and cattle — are being replaced by green energy and bio-tech industries which demand an educated workforce. Despite changes in the economic landscape, the service industry remains the number one employer in Texas. Tourism creates many jobs in the service sector, and many of the lowest wage jobs are held by women. As of 2010, more than a third of Texas workers were earning less than $20,000 per year. About 25% of adult women in Texas live below the federal poverty level. These women have been significantly impacted by the new laws.
The 2003 Texas Legislature passed the Woman’s Right To Know Act, which in effect sanctions the use of intimidation of a woman seeking an abortion. In 2011, a bill was introduced that forces women seeking an abortion to have an invasive transvaginal sonogram and endure a 24 hour waiting period. The bill was pushed through by then governor Rick Perry. In 2013, Perry called a special session for the sole purpose of passing House Bill 2 (HB2). The controversial bill was signed into law amid enormous public protest. The law includes specific restrictions which significantly reduce the availability of women’s reproductive health services. Assessment of HB2 by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project supports these findings:
- Denies women reasonable access to reproductive health services
- Increases risks to the health and safety of women
- Imposes Ambulatory Surgical Center standards which are not medically necessary
- Significantly reduces the number of women’s healthcare facilities available to poor and minority women
- Cuts funding for cancer and STD screening and prevention
In addition to cutting funding for reproductive health services available to women, thereby placing the lives of women in grave danger, the state of Texas also fails children living within its boarders. Legislators espousing traditional family values claim they are protecting women and children. However, a report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services does not support their claim. According to Child Protective Services, the total confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Texas for fiscal year 2014 was 66,572. More than 50,000 of those children were under the age of ten.
A Report to the 84th Legislature from the Texas Education Agency in January 2015 shows that in the 2013-14 school year 49.8 percent of public school students in Texas were identified as at risk of dropping out of school. The report defines an “at risk” student as one who has not advanced from one grade level to the next for one or more school years in grades 7 through 12.
In addition to poor academic performance, the report lists other indicators which put students at risk, one of which is a student who is pregnant or is a parent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites unwanted pregnancy and birth as significant contributors to high school drop out rates among girls.
According to the Texas Education Agency, other indicators that a student is at risk of dropping out of school are homelessness, being in the custody or care of the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, and residing in a residential placement facility, detention facility, halfway house, or foster group home. These living situations of “at risk” students, as defined by the report, are regulated, monitored, or otherwise fall under the purview of state government. This does not bode well for the tens of thousands of children who end up in CPS conservatorship or the juvenile justice system in Texas.
Despite empirical data, Texas politicians continue to put the education, health, and safety of women and children at risk every day. Current reproductive health policy in Texas shackles women and children to an endless cycle of poverty. The number of economically disadvantaged children in Texas, currently reported at 60%, grows exponentially. If the trend to defund family planning clinics continues, the economic impact will overwhelm the capacity of social services. As long as Texas legislators are allowed to assert moral authority over women, no one is safe.