“Texas has always prided itself on respect for its womenfolk. Perhaps that’s why the state’s latest effort to restrict their abortion rights presumes they’re all perfectly capable of both determining they’re pregnant and arranging for an abortion within the first six weeks of pregnancy.
Really. No more abortions after six weeks. The lawmakers’ theory is that that’s when a fetal heartbeat begins — something that perplexed many in the medical community, where people seem to believe a six-week-old embryo is a tiny speck that doesn’t yet have a real heart. In fact, it isn’t even a fetus until week 9.
But you already know, people, that this sort of argument is not going to get you anywhere. The legislators passing these laws don’t seem nearly as interested in medicine as they are in making it to the Supreme Court for the big Roe v. Wade decision most observers feel is coming around the bend.
They’ve got lots of company. Mississippi’s new 15-week abortion limit got on the launchpad first.
Texas came later, but it did manage to pass a law that’s more than twice as restrictive when it comes to the time a woman has to decide whether to proceed with a pregnancy. Imagine the new border signs: Welcome to Texas! The Place That Makes Mississippi Look Reasonable.
The Texas law is really … creative. It puts enforcement in the hands of private citizens, who can sue abortion providers and those involved in “aiding and abetting” abortions. This could include anyone from the staff at Planned Parenthood to an Uber driver who provided a ride to the abortion clinic. The penalty, if an aider or abettor loses, is $10,000.
I believe I speak for many Americans of all political persuasions when I say: Leave the Uber driver out of it. These people have a miserable enough existence as it is.
There’s no question that these are perilous times for women’s right to choose. Sixteen other states have passed laws to ban or drastically limit abortions — they’re just lying dormant on the books, waiting for the Supreme Court to make a new ruling that sharply limits the scope of Roe v. Wade.
But you always have to give special attention to Texas, which can be described as innovative only when it comes to sex issues. Remember the school curriculum that required a teacher to construct an 18-foot model of “Speedy the Sperm” to demonstrate the unreliability of condoms? Or when, as governor, Rick Perry defended abstinence-only birth control by saying he knew it worked “from my own personal life.”
Of course, when Texas clamps down on abortion, politicians are comfortably aware that their well-heeled constituents can eliminate an unwanted pregnancy with a quick hop to the airport and a flight to L.A.
On the other hand, more than 1.7 million female Texans live in what one nonprofit calls “contraceptive deserts,” where simply finding a range of options is, at the very minimum, difficult. A pregnant woman who lives in the region around Big Bend National Park in West Texas, for instance, has access to one hospital (and seven doctors) in a patch of land that takes up more than 12,000 square miles.
Just to make things as difficult as possible for the women who don’t have lots of frequent-flier miles, Texas has also barred Planned Parenthood — one of the leading providers of contraceptives in the state — from getting funding through Medicaid.
“That’s making it harder for the most low-income folks,” said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a physician at the Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston. He spent the first day of September telling patients who came in search of an abortion that anything past week 6 didn’t qualify. “They could have yesterday, but they couldn’t now,” he explained.
We will pause here to note that the vast majority of women who obtain abortions in Texas are past that new six-week deadline. And from now on, they have three choices: continue an unwanted pregnancy, get out of their very large state or go somewhere illegal and very possibly dangerous.
The best option, of course, is to avoid the pregnancy entirely. How many of you would be shocked to hear that many Texas schools are terrible at sex education?
“Texas has an abstinence-plus curriculum at best,” said Dr. Kumar. It reminded me of a brief foray I took through the Texas system about a decade ago. One of the more popular sex education textbooks listed “8 Steps to Protect Yourself from STDs,” none of which involved using a condom. Instead, one was, “Get plenty of rest.”
Texas, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is one of the fastest-growing states in the Union and a power center of increasing political wattage. It also has one of the highest rates of residents without health insurance in the country, including about a quarter of the women of childbearing age.
Now there’s a problem, Texans. Let the State Legislature work on that for a while. Take the lead in something useful.
We’ve all heard “Don’t Mess With Texas,” but right now a lot of us are thinking more along the lines of, “Texas, Don’t Make Another Mess.”