Analysis Abortion

Is the Future for Texas Blue?

Andrea Grimes

"What happens next?" That's the question on Texan lips this week as we watch Gov. Rick Perry sign an omnibus anti-abortion bill into law. My answer? Much.

Read all of Rewire‘s coverage of the recent fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

What happens next in Texas?

I’ve asked and tried to answer this question countless times over the past month, but never more than in the last week, after the Texas legislature gave its final approval to HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that will drastically reduce access to abortion in the state. Folks pose the question in the hallways of the capitol, in elevators to the top of the rotunda, over coffee at any number of Austin’s local cafes. And, of course, at the bar. Specifically, a 40-year-old dive called Posse East, just north of the University of Texas campus.

“If we’re going to talk about this,” my friend Carrie said, “I’m getting another pitcher.”

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Because what happens next in Texas is a multi-pitcher question.

How can anyone capture the excitement of the 10,000 or more Texans who realized the power of their presence at the capitol these last few weeks? These Texans didn’t skip their summer vacations, lie to their bosses to get out of hourly wage shifts, and tote around laptop-driven mobile offices because they were casually interested in seeing a little special legislative session wonkery in action. They came because they were ready to make a stand—even if that meant sitting for 12 or more hours in gallery seats as conservative legislators quoted Bible verses and dismissed the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a body of abortion conspiracist quacks.

But those 10,000 are just the people who were able to physically show up. What about the 180,000 who watched Wendy Davis filibuster live online? What about the thousands and thousands of Twitterers, checking in surreptitiously from cubicles and break rooms?

How can anyone not only capture but maintain that enthusiasm?

If it’s a question of holding attention, we sadly have very little to worry about, because the real impact of HB 2, if it is not immediately tied up in litigation, will be felt as soon as portions of the bill go into effect this September. We can expect reports of increased births among Texans who cannot access contraception and safe, legal abortion care. A system that already struggles to provide a safety net for the poorest Texans will become further overburdened, especially as lawmakers have refused to take the federal Medicaid expansion. And, terrifyingly, we can also expect reports of dead and gravely injured Texans forced to resort to flea market abortions and back-alley providers in rural areas along the border, in West Texas, and in deep East Texas.

While organizers and party leaders with Battleground Texas work to mobilize get-out-the-vote actions and strategize a potential Wendy Davis gubernatorial run over coffee and breakfast tacos, I believe there will be much happening on the ground among ordinary Texans who are now as familiar with the phrase “parliamentary inquiry” as they are “Shiner and a shot, please.”

Case in point: Last Friday, when state troopers were busily confiscating tampons from Texans waiting in line to enter the senate gallery, my friend Jenny got a Twitter message from state Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson’s people about the feminine hygiene product panic: “We’re working on it.” Watson was ultimately able to stop the ridiculousness, but only thanks to constituents like Jenny, who have gone from occasional letter-writers and voters to people who know legislative staffers by first name.

Jenny is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas; she lives in a world of intellectual theories and dissertation chapters. She is not a radical political activist—at least, not yet. Republican missteps and blatant disregard for the democratic process have mobilized people like her, people who have been otherwise resigned to quiet rage in the privacy of their own homes for years.

From Republican state Rep. Byron Cook’s atrocious mishandling of the original “people’s filibuster” on June 20, when he silenced 700 people ready to testify against new abortion legislation to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s shameless time stamp antics on the night of Wendy Davis’ epic stand in the senate, the first special session this summer was an exercise in public embarrassment for conservative lawmakers accustomed to practicing shady politics without scrutiny. When the second special session began, the Republican Party had given Democrats and progressives a remarkable gift: thousands upon thousands of freshly enraged Texans, who’d watched these reprehensible tactics in action. While every HB 2 protestor knew that the bill’s ultimate passage was a done deal, they had already realized the sheer power of public witness.

It’s one thing for Republican lawmakers to crow about personal responsibility, but when legislators decimate family planning funding, shut down good, quality health centers, and refuse to toss even the smallest scraps to children’s Medicaid or food stamps, they deny Texans the opportunity to demonstrate how resourceful and responsible they can be in the first place. And this year, Republican legislators have done all of this in full view of hundreds of thousands of Texans paying very close attention.

“Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps!” says Texas to its poorest citizens, even as it snatches those boots away, outlaws escalators, jams elevator doors shut, over-regulates ladders and pulleys, and restricts the sale of bootstraps to the state’s largest cities.

Despite all of this, in the face of certain defeat, thousands of Texans were not cowed into silence. That, I think, is the most important place to begin when we talk about what’s next for the state, not only in terms of undoing the damage done by HB 2 and its ilk but in terms of moving the state from red to blue. Can it be done in four years? In eight years? There is much hand-wringing over the worry that if Texas doesn’t see a sweeping Democratic victory in the next couple of elections, progressive Texans will quietly retreat in resignation, fed up and out of energy. Because Tea Partying conservatives haven’t just pissed off liberals; they’ve alienated their own more reasonable constituents.

The alternative, and one that many Texans would very likely be agreeable to, is turning not blue but purple, and ousting some of the hyper-right-wing conservative legislators who either took office during the Tea Party frenzy, or sitting legislators who took that opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. There are moderate Republicans here who trust their doctors and medical associations, who believe that the practice of religion belongs in the church and in the home, but their voices have been drowned out by the likes of Dan Patrick, Glenn Hegar, Donna Campbell, and Jodie “Rape Kits Clean a Woman Out” Laubenberg.

I don’t believe the kind of political enfranchisement we saw in Texas this summer is a one-time deal. I think it’s a starter package. Reasonable Texans know we have a long way to go. We’ve known that for a long, long time. What we have now is a road map and a rucksack of supplies. We have grassroots movements like the Feminist Justice League, organizing in both English and Spanish with actions for Texans to take from their own homes, and calls to public meetings across the state. We have seen a surge in donations to the Lilith Fund, which helps low-income Texans pay for abortion, and to Jane’s Due Process, which helps minors seeking abortions navigate the legal system.

We have Twitter, Facebook, Ustream, open records, independent media outlets, and an ability to see a larger landscape beyond our own gerrymandered home districts—although certainly we see those home districts more clearly than ever, now, and have a better understanding of just how dirty Republicans will play to keep them intact.

Reasonable Texans have not been handed a fry-up of big-mouth bass and hushpuppies. We’ve been taught how to fish. So grab a pitcher to go with that catch. We’ve got a lot to talk about.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.