Texas legislation by Republicans in the 85th legislative session this summer is the most Anti-Women’s Health, Anti-LGBTQ, Anti-Immigrant session ever held in Texas. Just before Mother’s Day the Texas Republican Freedom Caucus made a decision that would cause what has now been labeled the “Mother’s Day Massacre”.
Just a few days ahead of Mother’s Day, two bills seeking to lower Texas’ alarming rise in maternal deaths were among more than 100 that met their demise Friday, the result of manipulation by a group of House Republicans dedicated to causing havoc in the chamber for revenge on the rest of the Republican House. Because of the way this year’s session has ended, lawmakers will have to wait until they reconvene in 2019 to address the issue.
In an astonishing blow to public health experts, the 12-member House Freedom Caucus used a parliamentary maneuver to kill a wide group of over 100 bills, including House Bill 1158, which would have added first-time pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid to services, and House Bill 2403, which would have allowed a commission for a study on how race and socioeconomics affect access and healthcare for pregnant black women.
Both bills would have helped the state better understand how to consistently reach expecting mothers.
Between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died less than a year after their pregnancy ended — mostly from heart disease, drug overdoses and high blood pressure, according to the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity. And the state’s maternal mortality rates nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014, the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology reported last year.
The statistics come from a report in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014. At the same time the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. However in Texas, where it increases greatly, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.
The report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”.
From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. Then, after 2010, that rate leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.
Because of the alarming statistics in the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011 the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.
While at the same time, Texas eliminated all Planned Parenthood clinics from the state program that provided poor women with preventive healthcare. Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas had offered cancer screenings and contraception to more than 130,000 women.
In 2013, Texas restored funding for the family planning budget to original levels. But the healthcare providers who survived the initial cuts reported struggles to restore services to their original levels.
A task force was formed in 2013 to study and combat what state lawmakers already perceived as a rising maternal mortality rate.
The extension of the task force is “vital for us to be able to understand the causes and preventive measures” of so many Texas mothers’ fatalities, said Lisa Hollier, the task force’s chairwoman.
“The detailed case reviews we are doing are essential to understanding the actual causes of death,” said Hollier, explaining that even though her committee has found that cardiac problems are a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths, that alone “doesn’t lead to specific information for appropriate intervention programs.”
State Rep. Shawn Thierry sought to look into one particularly disturbing trend that the Texas task force had found: Black women make up 11 percent of births, but 28 percent of death. Thierry, a Democrat from Houston, wanted to compare the risk of black women in different income brackets.
But Thierry’s bill — which was backed by the Texas Medical Association and American Heart Association — died along with a parade of other proposals after the Texas Freedom Caucus killed her bill in the Mother’s Day Massacre.
“We haven’t done enough,” Thierry said.
Abortion-rights supporters have put at least some blame on strict state requirements for abortion clinics that prompted closures, though supporters of such laws say they protect women.
“When you do things like making access to abortions almost impossible, the impact that’s going to have on our states most vulnerable population is worse and worse,” said Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center, a reproductive justice organization founded by and for black women in Texas.
Other failed proposals that could have helped with the problem would have extended Medicaid coverage to low-income adults and to mothers for longer post-partum periods, said Adriana Kohler, a senior health policy associate for Texans Care for Children. Still, Kohler praised lawmakers for passing some measures, including one that will require Texas to post guidelines online for reporting pregnancy-related deaths and another that will allow mothers to be screened for post-partum depression for a year after childbirth.
Texas also has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy in the United States, the highest uninsured rate in the country and an ongoing Zika outbreak that threatens pregnant women. Yet Governor Greg Abbott unilaterally ended a committee that advises the state on women’s health programs.
Abbott on Thursday, June 15th, vetoed a bill with bipartisan support by Senator Borris Miles, D-Houston, that would continue the Women’s Health Advisory Committee past September.
“I am shocked and frustrated by the governor’s veto,” said Representative Donna Howard, D-Austin. “At no point during the past six months had the governor’s office expressed any concerns to me over the legislation. This absentee style is disgraceful, and it is now jeopardizing the health and safety of women across the state.”
The committee was created in 2015 to help to consolidate the state’s various women’s health programs after Texas pulled the Medicaid Women’s Health Program to create its own version in 2013 that bans Planned Parenthood. The decision resulted in the state forgoing millions of federal dollars to form a state-funded program now called the Healthy Texas Women’s Program, which serves fewer women.
So this is what Texas has become under the rule of our Republican Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Republican led Senate and House. A GOP party that is more concerned about “Sanctuary City-Show Me Your Papers” laws that racially profile people of color, about “Religious Exemption” laws that allow religious discrimination by Christian adoption and child welfare/foster care workers to turn away LGBTQ people, people of religions that are non-Christian, single parents, mixed race couples, non-white applicants and so many more. And of course we can’t leave out Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s all important crucial “Bathroom Bill”. A bill that is a solution looking for a problem as there are no documented cases of anyone transgender in the state of Texas ever attacking someone in the restroom. Just an acton taken by Dan Patrick and the Religious Right to stir up his base into a frenzy and cause yet more tension and hysteria between the LGBTQ Community over a non-issue.
This is why we must support every Democrat running for office in 2018 and take back the Texas House, Senate, Governors and Lt. Governor’s offices. The Resistance must come together and fight harder than we ever have before!