If you're a Texan woman who's been popping extra ibuprofen in hopes of calming the twists and turns in your ladybits this week, it might be because there's a whole passel of legislators, bureaucrats and activists fighting over and for your reproductive rights--and that's not completely a bad thing.
We’ll start with the almost-good news: the Center for Reproductive Rights has officially filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas challenging the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill that Rick Perry and his (do we really need to say male?) buddies signed into law in May. The bill requires women to hear a fetal heartbeat, if available, and to actively decline from seeing an image of the fetus, though they must hear a description of it from the doctor.
Nancy Northrup, the president of the CRR, told RHRC that "We're suing the state of Texas because they passed a law that's intrusive, patronizing and unconstitutional." In their original petition, CRR claims that the State of Texas is forcing doctors to do its ideological bidding, and that it would:
"compel physicians to deliver to their patients government-mandated speech including visual and auditory depictions of the fetus that falls outside the accepted standards and practices for medical informed consent."
CRR has filed a similar lawsuit in Oklahoma, the only other state with a mandatory ultrasound law on the books. The group hopes to gain an injunction against the law while their suit winds its way through the courts, delaying the time when--or if--Texas women will have to undergo the ultrasounds.
That's where the good news stops. Thanks to an eleventh-hour filibuster at the end of the regular session of the Texas Legislature by Fort Worth's Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis, lawmakers have entered into a special session. Davis hoped to use the session to get more time to funnel money to Texas schools--you'll remember that Texas is facing its worst-ever budget crisis and conservatives are loathe to spend any money on vital social services, making cutbacks aplenty.
The conservative super-majority has instead decided to use the special session to focus, yet again, on regulating women's reproductive rights by tagging an amendment on to the state health care bill that would block Planned Parenthood from receiving any of Texas' Medicaid dollars from its Women's Health Program (WHP). Indiana legislators have tried a similar tactic, and been told by the federal government that it's illegal. But that's not stopping Texas from trying, itself.
In fact, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott seems downright cocky about his intentions to keep poor women on Medicaid from accessing Planned Parenthood--which provides about 40 percent of preventive services under the WHP. In a ruling earlier this year, Abbott said that the WHP "may not contract with entities that are affiliates of entities that perform or promote elective abortions." By hoping to redefine the word "affiliate," Abbott and the conservative Texas legislature hope to keep Medicaid dollars out of the hands of Planned Parenthood, even though their abortion providers are handled under a separate organization.
A representative from Planned Parenthood of North Texas told RHRC that this is simply "setting women up to fail." Holly Morgan, the director of media relations at PPNT, can't believe legislators aren't connecting the dots when it comes to preventative care, contraceptive access and abortion.
"They don't want women to have abortions, so they're blocking women's abortion services," but "they're taking away any chance you have of preventing an unwanted pregnancy to begin with."
Sarah Wheat, the interim president of Planned Parenthood in Texas, says they expect to have a decision from the state department of Health and Human Services in the next couple of months that will determine the definition of "affiliate," that she says will most likely "place Texas at odds" with federal Medicaid.
And while Texas schools and other social services are at risk of deep cuts in this budget battle, some legislators still can't stop themselves introducing new, invasive legislation intended to infringe upon a woman's right to choose. Bill Zedler, a representative from North Texas, introduced a bill last week that would collect potentially identifying personal information from any Texas woman seeking an abortion--and place it online on a public, state-run website.
"It's Big Brother," said Holly Morgan of PPNT. In smaller communities, questions like the age, race, marital status and educational background of a woman could be all that's needed to identify a woman getting an abortion. The bill says to women, "We're going to keep you on a list somewhere," Morgan told RHRC. Just as with the mandatory ultrasound bill, Texas is following in the footsteps of Oklahoma with the personal information survey. There, the law was struck down as unconstitutional.
Anyone got an Advil?