On Thursday, Texas lawmakers celebrated the "legislative achievements" they have accomplished for women's health.
Yes, you read that correctly.
You are to be forgiven if you cannot think of anything that could be called a women's health "legislative achievement" coming out of Texas recently. This holds both for those outside the state and lifelong natives. The reason is that, even using the most generous definition of "achievement" (which assumes something positive) it would be difficult if not impossible to find one. In fact, the legislature is so far from producing positive results for women's health care, it has succeeded only in passing bills that have done the opposite. In the Rio Grande Valley -- one of the poorest, most vulnerable regions in the US -- the effect has even been called a human rights violation.
To take just one example, one that suddenly put a spotlight on Austin's astonishing policies, one that had even non-political junkies up late with a combination of excitement and fury, one that made a couple of Texas women named Davis and Van de Putte famous all over the world: SB 5, or as it is more affectionately known, the Back-Door Abortion Ban. This bill, whose cynical supporters claimed to be in the interests of protecting Texas women, in reality created no increased safety or access measures vis-à-vis women's health while it did cause utterly devastating effects.
These are not opinions. These are facts.
Unless by "protecting" you mean shutting down almost every clinic which provides abortion services due to their lack of admitting privileges at hospitals (unnecessary because abortion is now arguably the safest outpatient procedure in contemporary medical practice, with the least complications and the lowest incidence of risk -- less than 0.05% -- that a woman can undergo; unnecessary because other clinics providing potentially more dangerous procedures are not required to have such privileges; unnecessary because this even includes any clinic which prescribes the abortion pill). You are in more medical danger from, yet Texas requires less regulation for the administering of: colonoscopy, liposuction, root canal, laser eye surgery, removing wisdom teeth, biopsy, hernia therapy, IUD placement, removing a wart, receiving a shot of antibiotics or removing a toenail.
Unless by "protecting" you mean forcing women -- again, typically those most vulnerable and impoverished -- to travel hundreds of miles to find safe, legal services. Or, for women in the Rio Grande Valley, it is much more likely and incredibly more dangerous that you "protect" them by forcing them to cross the border to obtain the services of a burgeoning illegal market eager to take advantage of this already desperate population.
These are not partisan positions. These are facts.
Indeed, five Democrats joined Republicans to pass this law. Four of them are from the Rio Grande Valley: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr. (D-Palmview).
And this is just one bill. There are others, like the one that "protected" women's health and family planning by cutting two-thirds of the funding. Or when they "protected" over 155,000 low-income Texas women by removing their access to basic health services -- over 20,000 of them in the Valley. Or "protecting" Valley women by causing nine clinics to close in the RGV alone--clinics which primarily served this most vulnerable population. Or the "protections" that came from forcing medically unnecessary, degrading, invasive transvaginal ultrasounds (which, according to Texas law, could be seen as requiring doctors to sexually assault their own patients).
All unnecessarily "protecting" women from -- who? One wonders. In the Valley the number of botched abortions has increased so rapidly that some health care clinics which don't provide abortions may need to start hiring individuals who specialize in evacuating miscarriages. National reports on flea market abortion pills with incorrect and sometimes incredibly dangerous instructions abound -- and that's only assuming the rare case that the purchased pill actually does what it is supposed to do anyway.
But, and much more importantly, the legislature's "protections" have almost entirely missed the point. While these "protections" have everything to do with pandering to a base regarding the sanctity of life if you live and work in Austin, the effect around the state is simply to remove the primary providers of health care for those women who are closest to edge and most in need of assistance. Indeed, a number of the clinics shuttered in the Valley never provided abortion.
This is not about politics. This is about women. Texas women.
This is the collateral damage to women caused by the legislatures cynical "protections." While they garner increased votes from a politically less than savvy and likely well-intentioned electorate, the results would necessarily shock and horrify anyone who truly wishes to "protect" the innocent, the vulnerable -- anyone who believes that all life is sacred and precious.
Indeed, for those who are unclear or unaware as to whether women in Texas need "protection," the answer is yes: They need protection from such "legislative achievements."
Unless by "legislative achievements" you mean catapulting two women to the national stage overnight and inspiring enough collective and organized fury that you might actually be the catalyst that turns Texas blue again.
Because in that case, you are absolutely right. That would be one hell of an achievement.
Follow William H. Harwood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DRWHHarwood