Rallies in Austin and across U.S. address assault on women’s rights
by Nancy Ford
Some women are responding to Texas’s most recent assault on women’s healthcare with humor by bombarding Governor Rick Perry’s Facebook page with questions about menstruation, pregnancy, and general reproductive issues. That’s one way to get a man’s attention: start talking about cramps and clots.
Other women are taking action in a different, louder way.
Unite Against the War on Women is a new, grassroots, volunteer-based organization calling on women and those who care about equality to band together in Washington DC and at state capitols nationwide to make their voices heard.
Julie Burns is the volunteer coordinator for the Texas rally, scheduled April 28 in Austin. She encourages Texans to become involved, on whatever level they feel comfortable, as “ambassadors.”
“We need all kinds of volunteers—anybody who has any skills to bring. We need people in logistics, group outreach—anyone who is involved in any organized group at all, whether it be unions or women’s organizations or minority organizations. Get on the website, download the brochure or flier, print it out, and start passing it out to invite people to go,” she says. “We desperately need people.”
In terms of “What do we want/When do we want it?”—that traditional protestors’ chant heard at rallies and marches—the ensuing response doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
“We would like to have the vaginal sonogram law repealed, we would like to have women’s healthcare funding restored, and we would like to have some of these other onerous regulations dropped,” Burns says of the Texas rally committee’s aims. “For instance, [the Texas legislature] is getting ready to try the personhood amendment, which would declare a fertilized egg a person.
“We want all these onerous regulations against women stopped. And we want to have a huge turnout at the Austin rally, because that’s what’s going to get people’s attention.”
In addition to reproductive rights and women’s health issues, the nationwide rallies intend to address women’s educational opportunities, safety and wholesomeness of food supply, crimes against women and children, and workplace equality.
Burns also encourages Texans to not neglect a very basic, yet integral action that anyone age 18 or older can employ to make his or her voice heard. “There’s a voter registration form on the site; they can download that, and get registered to vote, and vote pro-choice. And contact their representatives and voice their opinions.”
According to voterparticipation.org, in 2010, 39 percent of unmarried U.S. women were not registered to vote, 37 percent were registered but did not vote, and only 24 percent voted.
Why We Fight
Burns traces her decision to become involved in the production of the rally to the egregious Texas legislation that requires a woman to endure a trans-vaginal probe prior to obtaining an abortion.
“The vaginal probe has passed [in May],” she says. “It is currently enforced, and Texas women are now, at this moment, being forced to have this onerous test.
“[Conservative legislators] sneaked it through. A group of physicians appealed it to the Fifth Circuit, saying it was an impingement on their rights as physicians, that they were asked to read something to their patients they did not believe in. They have to describe to the women the state of development of the zygote. But the Fifth Circuit did not uphold the appeal, so it is currently in effect. At this moment it is in effect, and at this very moment, women are having this procedure. Even women who have been raped have to do it.”
Burns believes the transvaginal probe is, itself, tantamount to rape. “It’s state rape. Rape is penetration without your consent.”
The transvaginal probe is just the invasive tip of the iceberg, Burns believes, regarding the legislative erosion of women’s rights.
The rally is also a response to Governor Perry’s defunding of the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which offers cancer and other health screenings, as well as family planning services to 130,000 low-income women across Texas.
According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank committed to using research and analysis to improve Texas public policy, the Women’s Health Program provides essential well-woman services. The program is part of Medicaid, a federal-state partnership. For every dollar the state spends in the program, the federal government provides nine more. The Women’s Health Program provides essential well-woman services, including Pap smears, breast exams, and birth control to low-income women. It saves the state over $40 million annually in the cost of unplanned births. Further, by reducing unplanned pregnancies, it reduces abortions.
“Legacy Community Health Services is extremely concerned with the loss of the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program. In the face of nearly $75 million in cuts to family planning services, the loss of an additional $30 million will deliver a severe blow to the ability of Texas women to access affordable preventative health services,” says Katie Caldwell, executive director of Legacy Community Health Center.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities further noted that losing the program “would be tragic because access to birth control is central to maintaining the health of women and children and ensuring economic opportunity for families.”
“Texas health centers and other community-based providers cannot afford to continue to absorb the funding cuts that are being made to score political points. We have already seen providers shut their doors,” Caldwell continues. “Our system does not have the capacity or the funding to continue enduring the attacks that have been waged against women’s health services. In the final analysis of this issue, we will see the health of women, especially women in minority communities, suffer. Texas women deserve better.”
Liz James, chief executive officer of Lesbian Health Initiative–Houston (LHI), agrees. “LGBT women and the entire community are impacted by the decision to eliminate the Women’s Health Program by Texas state officials—this, on top of substantial budget cuts made to health and wellness services for women during the last legislative session,” she says. “LHI is very concerned about the over 200,000 women in Texas, including those who identify as LGBT, who may go without necessary and lifesaving healthcare, including breast and cervical cancer screenings.”
Additionally, James fears these funding cuts could decrease capacity for providers, including key and long-term LHI healthcare provider partners like Legacy and The Rose.
“LHI is dedicated to eliminating barriers to healthcare for LGBT women,” James continues. “This includes helping those with limited financial means find access to needed, affordable, and welcoming care. This decision by the state of Texas eliminates an important and needed LGBT- and LGBT family-friendly healthcare program and resource provided for low income women.
“The loss of healthcare funding and services affects each and every one of us. Healthy individuals and healthy families equal healthy communities, and preventative medicine is only a fraction of the cost of treating advanced disease,” James concludes. “LHI encourages all to participate in this important dialogue—to understand what it means when women do not have access to adequate care.”
Get There If You Can
Burns sees an escalating war on women’s rights, and believes it is essential for women and those who support equality to make their voices heard.
“They’re doing things like passing regulations for abortion clinics—if they don’t have a certain-sized closet, they’re being shut down,” she says. “There’s a war on choice, but there’s also a war on contraception. And there’s a war on women’s health, period. Aside from any reproductive issues, there’s a war, flat-out, on women’s healthcare. Women are going to be dying because they have defunded these programs.
“It’s a women’s rights issue, true. But it’s a human rights issue, and it’s part and parcel of the attack on all of us. We have to fight for marriage equality, and we have to fight for women’s rights once again, believe it or not. We all are going to be working together.”
Unite Against the War on Women Rally
Saturday, April 28, 4 p.m.
Texas State Capitol, south side
1100 Congress Avenue in Austin
www.wowtex.org • www.unitewomen.org
Rally, My Dear
Helpful tips for the novice activist
• Bring your signs. No poles or sticks. Spell-check is your friend.
• Bring your own non-alcoholic beverages in reusable containers.
• Bring your fully charged camera and phones, with your Facebook and Twitter accounts easily accessible.
• Bring your family and friends.
• Bring your sense of outrage, tempered with patience and humor.
• Wear comfortable shoes. Hats don’t hurt, and neither does sunscreen.
On March 27, Texas Health and Human Services Commission released the following information:
“HHSC will not be changing who qualifies for the program or how service providers are paid. There will be no disruption of services during the transition to a state-funded program. Today, any woman who applies for the program and qualifies gets approved for services. There is no limit on enrollment. That policy will continue when the program is fully funded by the state.
“Service providers in the Women’s Health Program are going through a certification process between March 15 and April 30. Most doctors and clinics currently in the program will continue providing services during the certification process and after May 1. Women who need help finding a new Women’s Health Program provider can call toll-free 1-800-925-9126.”