Commentary Law and Policy

Don’t LET Them Mess With the Women of Texas: It’s Time to Rise Up!!

Beverly McPhail

What will it take for Texas women to use our voices and our votes to protect poor women’s health care, roll back restrictive and onerous abortion regulations, and gain back control of our bodies, our lives, and our daughters’ futures?

For all our coverage of the cuts to the Texas Women’s Health Program, click here.

The year 2012 has been a tumultuous one for women. Struggles over rights won and battles fought decades ago are coming back to life like zombies from a bad B-movie. Although the “war on women” is happening nationally, Texas constitutes the front lines. Women activists in Virginia managed to beat back the trans-vaginal probe requirement in their mandatory sonogram bill, considered by some to be state-sanctioned rape, but a harsher sonogram bill passed in the Texas Legislature last year, and enforcement began this year.

One wonders: Where is the outcry from Texas women?

Texas women are often described as having big hair, twangy accents, and clothes that glitter. But another tradition of Texas women exists along side this caricature– tough- talking, hard-driving women who don’t suffer fools, ran for office, and advocated for the rights of women and other marginalized groups, usually with a husky laugh and a clever turn of phrase. Women like Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, and Barbara Jordan.

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Molly Ivins’ last column before her death from breast cancer was a clarion call to action:

“We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.”

Although she was specifically writing about the war in Iraq, her words resonate equally well for the current war on women.

However, we don’t need to call Ann, Molly, and Barbara back from their respective graves (may they rest in peace), but living, breathing Texas women do need to rise up and fight the regressive powers that seem intent on dragging women by the hair back to an earlier time that some men recall with nostalgic fondness and many women recall with horror. A time when women couldn’t own property, vote, keep their own wages, gain custody of their children, or control their own bodies or reproductive lives.

There are a multitude of excuses that women offer to rationalize their lack of political participation: We are tired. We are busy. We are working in our jobs and raising our families. There is laundry to be done, bills to be paid, and a project due at work. Politics is too messy. Or we are too busy surfing the web or watching reality television. Or this is about other women and not me.

However, such excuses are reminiscent of the famous statement attributed to Martin Niemoller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power when, one by one, certain groups were selected for purging.

The text starts, “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist . . . ”

The paraphrased version for Texas women today would read:

First they came for the women who needed abortions, and even though one in three women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime, I didn’t speak out because I didn’t think I think I would ever need one.

Then they came for poor women’s health care by shutting down the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which provided breast cancer screenings and pap smears for cervical cancer screening, and I didn’t speak out because I am not a poor woman.

Then they came for outspoken women who express their opinions on birth control mandates in preventive health care policy, like Georgetown University Law Center student Sandra Fluke, and I didn’t speak out because I was afraid I, too, would be branded a slut and a prostitute.

Then they came to take away women’s birth control (more than 99% of sexually active women aged 15-44 have used at least one contraceptive method reports the Guttmacher Institute) and I did not speak out because I am beyond childbearing years.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

What will it take for Texas women to use our voices and our votes to protect poor women’s health care, roll back restrictive and onerous abortion regulations, and gain back control of our bodies, our lives, and our daughters’ futures?

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