Abortion in Texas: The small fraction

Medievalpreg

Only a small fraction of Texas women will suffer.

With the closing of thirteen abortion clinics in Texas, one out of six Texas women seeking an abortion will have to travel 150 miles or more, and never mind all the other obstacles about waiting periods, increased costs, hassling protesters and having to listen to medically incorrect messages. But one out of six? That’s only a small fraction, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

“In our circuit,” wrote Judge Jennifer Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee, “we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes. We do not doubt that women in poverty face greater difficulties.”

What a bother, those “women in poverty.”

Judge Elrod argued that the court had to find that “a large fraction” of women would be affected by the law – the medically unnecessary requirement that all abortion clinics in the state meet the same building equipment and staffing standards as hospital-style surgical centers. And those 900,000 women in rural Texas the judge acknowledged would be affected, well, they’re just a “small fraction.”

Judge Elrod may not know a lot about what it feels like, being part of the small fraction. Born in 1966, she grew up in the Houston-area city of Baytown, Texas, which bills itself as a city “where oil and water really do mix.” She graduated from Baylor and Harvard Law School. Her Wikipedia and Judgepedia pages make no mention of marital or family status, but presumably she never sought to have an abortion. If she had, she would have definitely been in the large fraction – women with money who always have access to safe and legal procedures, even in Texas.

This writer was in another large fraction: women without access to safe or legal abortion in the days before Roe v Wade. Much like today’s small fraction, faced with no viable options we took desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies. Some of us survived, countless others did not.

This is the fate to which the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit is consigning the small fraction. Danger, expense, family trauma, health risks and occasional death. Even for a small fraction, that seems hardly what America is about. And hardly in tune with the antiabortion forces’ proclaimed wish to “protect women.”

Some in the small fraction will face primarily family distress and exorbitant costs (usually upwards of $1,000 or $1,500) like “Maria,” whose story is recounted by RH Reality Check Senior Political Reporter Andrea Grimes. Some will face very real danger traveling to Mexico for drugs that can cause permanent injury or death if improperly created or improperly used. Some will maim or kill themselves in efforts to self-abort.

There will be hundreds of women like Elvia Yamell Hamdan, whose story was reported in a recent New York Times article by Laura Tillman and Erick Eckholm. Ms. Hamdan, 44, showed up at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, TX with her husband after a three-hour drive from their home, only to find that clinic professionals could suddenly no longer provide abortions. Ms. Hamdan already has four children and three grandchildren, and seeks to end an unplanned pregnancy. The U.S. Constitution says she has a right to make that choice – but Texas law says her best remaining option is an appointment three weeks later in San Antonio, 240 miles north.

Denise Burke, Vice President of Legal Affairs for Americans United for Life, is quoted in the New York Times story as saying the Fifth Circuit decision endorses anti-abortion forces’ argument that “abortion harms women, and states may regulate in the interest of women’s health.”

“Maria” and Ms. Hamdan seem likely to secure, eventually and at significant risks to their own health and wellbeing, the safe and legal abortion guaranteed to American women. How many others will now, instead, wind up sick, maimed or dead because of this latest ruling will never be known.

Because those others are just part of “the small fraction.”

In the Abortion Wars: A Judge Speaks of Women’s Rights, Women’s Needs

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, in his recent ruling that Alabama’s abortion law must go to trial, raises the interesting issue of an “undue burden” on pregnant women.

Imagine that. Bringing the focus around to women.

In the frenzy to ban abortion anywhere, anytime that’s currently going on across the U.S., it is all about the fetus. Opponents of choice and sponsors of restrictive laws often frame their measures as “protective of women,” as if wider hallways, more parking spaces or the host of line items proven to be medically inappropriate were aimed at anything but preventing women from having abortions. Once fertilization happens, the zygote takes precedence.

It’s heartening, therefore, to have a judge speak about the person who is solely able to know the full circumstances: the woman.

The specific issue in Alabama – as with states including Texas where it’s being used to force clinic closures – has to do with requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. There is extensive evidence that admitting privileges are unnecessary. An in-depth article by Imani Gandy of RH Reality Check titled “Why Admitting Privileges Laws Have No Medical Benefit” covered some of that evidence: only a tiny fraction (less than 0.3%) of women experiencing complication from abortion require hospitalization; the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times that of abortion; should something go wrong with an abortion, the ambulance EMT can make the appropriate choice of hospital.

Other laws, such as those restricting medical abortion or many citing physical details of abortion facilities, are cloaked in “protecting women” language. They do exactly the opposite.

Abortion opponents cheer passage of these laws for one reason: they create more roadblocks to abortion. Thus, opponents reason, more women will be denied access, forcing them to bring unwanted pregnancies to term. It is hard to find any good news for women here.

But Judge Thompson said, in an 86-page opinion, that the Alabama trial will focus on whether the law violates women’s constitutional rights by imposing “a substantial obstacle,” possibly placing an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion. Since abortion clinics more often than not use traveling physicians, the law could result in closure of all but two of Alabama’s five facilities. Alabama has a total land area of 52,419 square miles. It’s hard to believe there would not be an undue burden on countless women required to travel very long distances to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion.

Not all judges seem overly concerned with women. In letting the Texas admitting privileges law stand, Judge Edith H. Jones of the extremely conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals located in New Orleans said she did not believe that driving 300 miles round trip would pose a serious obstacle to Texas women seeking abortions. Judge Jones spoke of good highways and 75 mph speed limits as if the impoverished women of the Rio Grande Valley all had Cadillacs at their disposal.

And more recently, District Court Judge David C. Bury let stand an Arizona law restricting the use of the drug mifepristone to the first seven weeks, despite extensive evidence that it can be safely taken outside doctors’ offices through the ninth week of pregnancy. What this means is that countless Arizona women, unable to have the safer, preferable medical procedure, will be forced to have more expensive and complex surgical abortions… and to travel hundreds of miles, twice to comply with the regulations. But this does not concern Judge Bury. None of that, he wrote, qualifies “as irreparable harm.”

For now, Judge Thompson’s words offer some solace, whether or not his decision ultimately goes in favor of the women of Alabama.

“If the court finds that the statute was motivated by a purpose of protecting fetal life, then the statute had the unconstitutional purpose of creating a substantial obstacle,” Thompson wrote in his opinion. “Evidence establishing that the legislature passed a statute with the purpose of closing down the clinic would suffice to establish a constitutional violation.”

Win some, lose some…

It’s a not-too-encouraging new twist on the old baseball adage: win some, lose some, some get rained out.

Women’s health & rights recently won one – Albuquerque –  lost one – Texas – and guess who still gets left out? The woman (and often her husband or partner) who simply wants to exercise a constitutional right to make a very personal, very private and usually very difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy.

The Albuquerque issue was a blatant attempt by right-wing ideologues to circumvent the law and ban late-term abortions outright. It would have immediately affected the entire state, since the only two clinics (and specifically the openly-advertising Southwestern Women’s Options) performing the procedure are in Albuquerque. Although late-term abortions are a tiny, tiny fraction of all such procedures, they are often the most wrenching, difficult and extremely private of decisions; for now, New Mexico women at least retain the right to make such decisions when necessary — and the access needed to carry them out.

Texas women fared worse. The Supreme Court turned down an appeal to block another blatantly anti-women law passed by Texas in July, which will force the immediate closing of as many as one third of the clinics in the state offering abortions.

Texas Governor Rick Perry proudly proclaimed that this means Texas women “are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions.” Excuse me? If I could get Mr. Perry to read my own story in Perilous Times, he might know what shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions are actually like. Tragically, because they are now denied access to safe and legal procedures, Texas women without resources may be forced to turn in similar directions.

Highly trained, dedicated physicians have been available to perform abortions in Texas clinics. Whether they have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic — as is now required — has absolutely no bearing on “the safety of Texas women.” But the law now enables one harsh, strident, anti-women segment of the state to impose its will on disempowered women. All but a handful of clinics in Texas will be forced either to close or to stop offering abortions. Some Texas women will be able to travel the long distances necessary to access safe procedures but others — women without money or power, desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy that could bring lead to unbearable hardship?

They not only lost one, they are now left out. My heart aches for those women.

Women lose in Texas

texas our texas
texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

Does it surprise anyone that Texas legislators have succeeded in making abortion virtually impossible for Texas women? Probably not. It saddens me. I know how it feels to be unintentionally pregnant — in my case it followed a workplace rape — and desperate. You tend not to be thinking about that collection of cells that might possibly, eventually, develop into something viable; you are thinking about the rest of your life.

If  you are without money or resources (many women of means in Texas will manage to go elsewhere for a safe, legal abortion) you are likely to do desperate things.

Before 1973, those desperate things included attempting to self-abort with  knitting needles and coathangers, or by ingesting or douching with potentially deadly  solutions. Women traded stories, myths and reputed recipes for becoming un-pregnant again. In some cases these led to a successfully ended pregnancy; no one knows how often they ended in sterility or injury or death. When you see your life unraveling, you will take a lot of risks to keep it together.

Certainly this punitive legislation may reduce the number of abortions in Texas. The bill in toto could be a cause for jubilation or rage, depending on where one stands. But one can only feel sad for the increase in the number of unwanted children whom the great state of Texas cares little about, or the desperate women who now will take dangerous risks.

Hearing Wendy’s voice – & others

Mandatory pre-abortion waiting period laws in ...
Mandatory pre-abortion waiting period laws in the United States of America. Mainland U.S. edited from a 600px map by Jared Benedict at Libre Map Project and non-continental states from http://www.uscourts.gov/images/CircuitMapoutlined.eps by the United States Department of Justice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gail Collins, in her traditionally precise prose, wound up a recent column on Wendy Davis‘ now historic filibuster in the Texas legislature thusly:

A few years back, Davis told me about an incident during a debate when she had asked a veteran Republican a question about a pending bill. Dodging her query, he said: “I have trouble hearing women’s voices.”

“I guess they can hear her now.”

Amen.

There’s something about hearing women’s voices that can make men, especially men who would like to tell women what they can or cannot do with their own bodies, too uncomfortable to listen.

In one poignant story included in my new book Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade (plug intended) Karen Mulhauser tells of the time when she testified before a congressional committee about being brutally raped in her home. She was trying to make the point that had a pregnancy resulted she would not have wanted it to continue. But Congressman Ed Patten (who died at 89 in 1994, after serving 17 years in Congress) “appeared to be asleep.” Representative Silvio Conte (1921-1991; then a Republican from Massachusetts) turned his swivel chair away from her to face the wall.  Mulhauser, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice and current chair of Women’s Information Network, was angered — but not silenced.

Some voices, those of women without resources who are facing unwanted pregnancies in states where safe abortion is de facto impossible, are going unheard. And those women are doing desperate things.

But it is for them that Wendy Davis, and Karen Mulhauser, and every woman and man who believes in a woman’s right to choose, is raising her own voice of encouragement and support. And those voices will be heard.

 

Murder for refusing sex okay’d in Texas

English: The flag of Texas flying in Austin
English: The flag of Texas flying in Austin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s truth way stranger than fiction, and way worse: in Texas, if you shoot a woman you’d planned to have sex with after she declines, it’s OK. You were just trying to get your money back. Excuse me?

The San Antonio Express-News reported it thus: “A Bexar County jury on Wednesday acquitted Ezekiel Gilbert of murder in the death of a 23-year-old Craigslist escort.” (Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Jury-acquits-escort-shooter-4581027.php#ixzz2VaVAo7rQ)

How does she wind up dead — though initially only paralyzed, she died 7 months later — while he walks free? Well, you see, he figured sex was part of the package when he signed up for her escort services, so he was just trying to recover the $150 that was rightfully his. That was the argument for the defense, and it worked out well for Gilbert. Not so well for the escort, Lenora Ivie Frago. She may not have been a paragon of virtue but dead seems a high price to pay for refusing sex.

I did not follow this saga and certainly don’t know the details. But it doesn’t say a lot about the value of a woman’s life, or the blessings of easy access to guns in the great state of Texas.

Guns and children

Case O' Guns
Case O’ Guns (Photo credit: Gregory Wild-Smith)

There’s a women-for-guns photo floating around Facebook that should get an award for creepy-scary picture of the year. It features a pretty young blond with a baby in one arm and a rifle in the other. It praises all the brave women currently bearing arms (there are a lot of them, and we’re not talking military,) touts the second amendment and winds up with “…you could call it a woman’s right to choose.” For those of us already distressed about the growing infringements on women’s reproductive rights (not to mention the co-opting of  the term “pro-life,”) that’s a low blow.

I’m fine with women packing heat if they feel the need. And if they recognize that the simple fact of having a gun around vastly increases the chance of violence to themselves and their loved ones. But baby on one arm and gun in the other?

When we were young, my oldest sister (there were four of us) awoke one night to find a man lying beside her on her bed. After a great deal of shouting and confusion the intruder, who had come in the side door, dashed down the stairs and out the front. Nobody locked their doors in Ashland, Virginia in those days, though I’ll admit that for a while after that we did. The town sheriff was called, but no one was ever arrested.

The next day — after a night that began with six people in five beds but finished with three sisters in one and the frightened oldest in between her parents — my father bought a gun.  It was theoretically locked, and appropriately set far back on a shelf. But we all knew about it. My father talked a lot about his cowboy childhood in dirt-poor rural Texas, about shooting rats down at the barn, even about being briefly in the Army; we were not reassured.

Within a few weeks the presence of the gun became too much. My sisters and I explained that we were not afraid of future intruders, but we were afraid of the potential damage to them, us or innocent others represented in that ugly piece of machinery on the shelf. Finally, my mother chimed in.

“I want my children to be safe,” she said. “That gun simply endangers their safety.” The gun went off to wherever unwanted guns go.

So I wonder about the young woman with the baby on her hip. My sisters and I ranged in age from 8 to 16, and our mother still just wanted us to be safe. I wonder if that gunslinging mother really wants her baby to be safe?