On this side of the pond, my work day is over. It’s 6:30pm (as I sit down to write) and I should be relaxing with a glass of wine, trying to unwind and rest up in preparation for another day.
Am I doing this?
No, actually. Sure I’ve got the glass of wine, but I’m having to force myself not to down it in one swallow. I am sick with worry about the events unfolding in my home state and aside from mainlining an entire bottle of wine, I don’t know what else to do but write.
Texas lawmakers, led by the truly insidious Governor Rick Perry, have been ram-rodding anti-abortion laws through the legislature that would, in effect, close all but five clinics currently in operation and ban all abortions after 20 weeks. Five clinics, located in urban centers, to provide care for approximately 13 million women. And Texas Republicans are claiming that these measures are being taken ‘to make women safer’.
I’ll be honest, I’m really struggling to even know where to begin. I don’t know how much to say, I don’t know what angle to take, my thoughts are completely clouded with fear. Even in spite of a spectacular demonstration of pro-choice activism by Texas women and men on June 25th, the likelihood that these laws will be forced through the legislature is terrifyingly high. Texas women will lose access to family planning services. So how can I even begin to speak? How do I find words that will make any difference?
I cannot hope to render my worries as eloquently as Amy Gentry recorded hers, and I am in no laughing mood so I’m sure this will lack the wit and snark of your typical Jezebel post. I’ve opted for sheer honesty, this time around. All I’m going to do is give my testimony, as if I were standing in my state’s Capitol, watching dozens of white, privileged, Republican men stare blankly at me with disinterest and probably disdain. I can’t literally Stand With Texas Women tonight–fuck, I wish I could–so I’m going to stand here and tell my story. Because yes, ‘we are here’.
I worked for Planned Parenthood for over a year. After I had completed a Master’s degree, worked full-time for a year, and worked part-time as a waitress in a whiskey bar for a year and a half (because I could find no other employment), I finally landed a Planned Parenthood job. I guess I’m lucky that I wasn’t in Texas at the time because the job was, in and of itself, the most challenging thing I had ever done and were I constantly threatened with losing my position because of aggressive defunding measures by the state legislature, I’m sure I would have fared much worse. Still, I think it’s important for me to share my experiences because it changed my life, and I know for a fact that I changed dozens of women’s lives almost every day that I went to work.
Working for Planned Parenthood is an incredible experience. You are taught by medical professionals the latest health education on birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, women’s reproductive health, men’s sexual health, and family planning. Despite what most Republicans might claim, only around 30% of Planned Parenthood’s services have anything to do with abortion. They provide regular screenings, they offer breast cancer screenings to women who have no other access to healthcare, they provide some prenatal care, they reach out to all types of sexually active people and offer honest, helpful advice about how to protect oneself and one’s partner. I saw women and men and I helped them with everything from birth control consultations to ‘post-Vegas-freak-out-STD-screens’. And yes, I took part in providing abortion services. Aside from learning the facts behind all of these things, I learned other lessons that white, privileged, Republican Texan politicians would never even dream of acknowledging.
I know that everyone has sex
The most amazing thing about Planned Parenthood is that they provide safe, confidential services to people who need care. I learned to help my clients with an open heart and mind so that I was never surprised when I wound up with someone weeping onto my shoulder because they needed treatment for an STD they had contracted during their mission trip. Religious women and men who were so ashamed of their actions would come to our clinics because they firmly believed that their ‘family physicians’ would either turn them away or fail to provide appropriate care. Gaining affordable, safe access to sexual health care, women’s health care, and family planning services is important to all kinds of people, across all levels of income, and from all religions. You preach whatever you want, you draw ‘moral, religious’ lines in the sand and insist that none of ‘your people’ ever cross those lines. Do what you need to. But we’ll be here on the other side, quietly helping them when life happens anyway.
Women are already viable human beings who need care
So much of the rhetoric used by the Texan Republican party is couched in language that one could easily mistake for caring. They say they want to make women safer and yet when they began defunding Planned Parenthood providers in 2011, 50 women’s healthcare and family planning clinics were shut down. Did you know that ‘women in Texas suffer high rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies compared to national figures, and the state ranks 50th for diabetes prevalence in women’? For many women in Texas, getting treatment for STI’s, obtaining routine healthcare like annual exams and gaining access to abortion services is only possible because of partially-funded organisations like Planned Parenthood. In fact ‘1 in 3 women of childbearing age lacks health insurance’. How can you claim to be making women ‘safer’ when already, you denied 50% of women enrolled in the Women’s Health Program access to affordable care? What is safe about forcing a woman who is already having a medical emergency to wait days on end because of a lack of access to proper care? Republicans talk about their concerns for the ‘life of the child’ and yet they continuously take aggressive measures to reduce the mother’s chance to live a healthy life.
No one is pro-abortion
I think what boggles my mind most are the ways in which women and men who are pro-choice are depicted by Texas lawmakers who claim to be ‘pro-life’ (I put this phrase in quotes because these are also the same people who refuse to review gun laws and who would never consider revising Texas’ use of the death penalty). Do you really think we like abortion? Do you think this is something we celebrate? I walked through protest lines on many occasions on my way to work and I heard every ‘good, Christian’ turn of phrase you can imagine: ‘Get a job that doesn’t involve murder’, ‘God doesn’t love those who murder children’, ‘You don’t have to murder your baby’. I always had to wonder if these people had ever actually taken the time to listen to a woman who had to make this choice. I did. I spoke with dozens, week in and week out. And you know what? Not a single one of them had an easy time of it. Every single woman I ever helped was overwhelmed by the gravity of her choice; every woman felt sorrowful and doubtful; I handed every single client I served tissues. But they all knew what they were doing, they all thought seriously about their decisions and in some cases, they were doing the only thing they could do to save their lives. How dare you suggest that these women are murderers, that they are guilty of reveling in the cessation of life. I simply cannot fathom how these conservative lawmakers could listen to hours of testimony and shrug off the struggles of Texas women by saying nothing more than, ‘it was repetitive‘.
I am a Texas Woman and I need Planned Parenthood
I have never been so poor as when I worked for Planned Parenthood. Why? Because federal and state funding is cut left, right, and center and clinics do whatever possible to maintain safe, dependable, affordable care for their patients. The wages that most health care assistants earn are meager even in spite of intensive, on-going training, long hours, and emotionally-taxing work. I earned so little that I qualified for food stamps. I racked up hundreds of dollars of debt on my credit card because it was the only way I could afford to put enough gas into my car to get to work. I would mix a can of Rotel into a pot of brown rice and eat nothing else for a week. I am an educated, white woman. I was raised in a middle-class household. And yet, had I not received healthcare from Planned Parenthood because of my job there, I would have been entirely unable to afford seeing a doctor. My situation would have been so much worse, I’m sure, if I did not enjoy the privileges of whiteness and education. Even now, when I am two months away from submitting my PhD, I have nothing but mountains of educational debt to my name. I have no health insurance and no hope of obtaining it. I have no idea if, come September, I will be able to find employment. As fate would have it, my IUD also expires in September. My partner and I are in a committed relationship, and we love each other very much but we’re both students, without incomes or jobs. What happens if I get pregnant? Should I just assume that I can hop on Texas’ (feeble) Medicaid wagon without care or concern? I doubt it. Don’t tell me I’m an exception. Don’t tell me that this is about ‘other kinds’ of women. This is about me as much as it is about any Texas woman and there is nothing wrong with us, we are not sluts, we are not lazy, we are not immoral, but god damn it, we are in need of some basic human compassion.
I have never been so proud of Texas women as I was when I watched hundreds of voices fearlessly demand that justice be served in the Texas legislature. I burst into tears listening to the sound of my sisters proving that they fucking matter. I expect to cry different tears tonight because it seems inevitable that women’s healthcare will be derailed by men who only have ownership and control in their sights. They don’t give a shit about Texas women, they care only for their own self-centered, frail sense of mastery.
I will not let them control my choices. I will not let them destroy the most powerful allegiance I have ever felt. I still have no money. I’m still eating pots of pasta and rice for days on end. I don’t care. I will make a difference in whatever small way I can and I hope you will consider doing the same. If these men won’t protect women, I will. Join me in supporting Planned Parenthood of Texas. Get on Twitter and show our Texan sisters that we are there with them in spirit. Pray to your goddess that Wendy Davis is made the cosmic queen of the next world where women roam the planet with love and freedom and power.
Stand With Texas Women!