Commentary Health Systems

Texas Health Care Battle Demonstrates Anti-Choice Radicalism

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choicers attacking Medicaid funding for women's health care claim that it's about abortion, but their interest in redirecting patients to centers that don't provide even basic health care show it's about so much more, a war in which women are just collateral damage.

After hearing enough anti-choicers paint misleading pictures about abortion care or speak in horrified tones about the evils of contraception, a pro-choicer might understandably start to believe that the anti-choice movement wants to withhold all reproductive health care from women who have sex without procreating. The way they carry on about how immoral it is to share an insurance plan with someone else who happens to be using the birth control pill—as if its slut vibes go through the insurance card and infect everyone else who has a similar card—it’s hard not to imagine that this is exactly the case. Well, now Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has proved that this is indeed what they want, an end to gynecological care for women who have sex for pleasure instead of procreation.

As reported by Andrea Grimes here at Rewire, Perry attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the misleadingly named Source for Women non-clinic, a place that holds itself out as a source of reproductive health care even though they have no gynecologists on staff, don’t offer contraception, and don’t even offer Pap smears, though they do claim to offer “well woman exams.” Which, considering how limited their services are, causes me to suspect they eyeball you, ask if you’re having sex, and if you say yes, beg you to stop if you’re not intending to get married and home-school your kids about how Jesus rode a dinosaur. They do offer STD testing, though it’s worrisome how thorough it could be under these circumstances, but they don’t list STD treatment as a service. Since that often involves real medical care like writing prescriptions, skepticism is in order.

It’s easy to see the link between all the services they don’t offer, despite holding themselves up as a clinic: Thems the treatments you need if you’re having The Sexytimes. If they offered these services, therefore, people could actually minimize the negative consequences of having sex. By not offering this help, they can help maximize the consequences of sex to punish you.

Pregnancy testing and STD testing are basically of no good to a patient if they aren’t accompanied by actual care to help them deal with their medical needs. Most chillingly, not offering Pap smears while pretending to offer well woman exams shows how far they’re willing to go in order to make life hard for women, for no other reason than they disapprove of their sex lives. Pap smears are there to look for abnormal cervical cells that could turn into cancer—a cancer that is caused by HPV, a sexually transmitted infection. A woman who thinks she’s had a well-woman exam but didn’t have a real one could have abnormal cells go undetected. Those, in turn, could easily turn into cancer that kills her.

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But of course, from the “pro-life” perspective, if she didn’t want to die of cervical cancer, she shouldn’t have had sex in the first place. But seeing anti-choicers literally create schemes that will result in women having undetected cancer that kills them is nonetheless a shocking new low. To see them praised by Governor Perry for it is chilling.

Of course, the representative Andrea spoke to wasn’t unaware that the current regulations require that clinics who want to be part of the Texas Women’s Health Program have to offer contraception and Pap smears. She promised that these things were coming, though she made it clear that actually, the contraception wasn’t, because conservatives claim to believe that pretty much all female-controlled effective contraception is “abortion.” Women who come to her clinic seeking the kinds of contraception you get through a doctor, such as IUDs or birth control pills, will likely get a pat on the head and told to keep their legs crossed. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll get a chart explaining the rhythm method to them, and if they’re super lucky, it might be accurate, though I wouldn’t hold my breath. If the same mentality they use with contraception is applied to Pap smears, it stands to reason that we should worry if they’re going to be good, effective Pap smears.

Of course, the scariest thing of all is that the Texas Women’s Health Program, having been decoupled from the federal funding through Medicaid, doesn’t really have to be well-regulated at all. If things like having doctors or providing real care become an obstacle between anti-choice propaganda centers and getting their hands on state funds, it’s easy to imagine Texas legislators removing requirements that actual care be provided in exchange for the money. After all, Perry made it clear that the main goal is giving crisis pregnancy centers funds that allow them to spread their message, i.e. the message that women’s sexuality is about procreation, not pleasure, and that those who don’t toe their line (in other words, 99 percent of all U.S. women) deserve to be punished. Since the primary goal of crisis pregnancy centers stands in direct conflict with providing actual health care, don’t be surprised if the regulations tying the money to actual care start going unenforced or are relaxed to the point of being pointless.

The battle over Planned Parenthood is really a stand-in for this larger battle over the very concept of reproductive health care. At the heart of the anti-choice movement is a nostalgia for an era when the only reproductive health care women received was having someone deliver their babies. They long for this era because it reinforces their belief that a woman’s sole purpose in life is having babies. Health care—such as cancer prevention and contraception—suggests women have value beyond baby-making, and therefore health care must therefore be snuffed out as part of a larger ideological war geared towards putting women back in their place. Of course, this war means lives must be lost to cancer and health lost to untreated disease and babies born to women unprepared to care for them. But for anti-choicers, this is war. And war has casualties. Losing the lives and health of women and children is just an unfortunate by-product of the fight to strip women of their status as full citizens and return them to the status of a servant class, here for no other purpose but to make babies and serve men.

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