Commentary Politics

Losing My Lege: Former Fetus, Current Hypocrite

Andrea Grimes

Rep. Jonathan Stickland's "former fetus" sign isn't just a matter ripe for mockery. It's an issue of life and death for the people in Texas who rely on Planned Parenthood, and other specialized providers of reproductive health care, for affordable cancer screenings and treatment.

Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas Legislature

Texas was all atwitter this week when Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a veritable walking Tea Party, boldly declared himself to be a “former fetus” by posting a paper sign over his office nameplate in the historic state capitol building.

The historic part is important, because in putting up the sign, Stickland violated one of the State Preservation Board’s most basic rules: You can’t post signs in the capitol. Nobody can. Not even freedom-fighting, gun-toting, uber-conservative state representatives.

But Stickland whined nevertheless: “I think I have the right to put something on my own placard.”

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Sorry, sir. You don’t. Them’s the rules. And they apply to everyone, fetus fetishists and reproductive rights supporters alike. For the record, the protesters who came out by the thousands in the summer of 2013 to oppose Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion bill obeyed them, using word-of-mouth and social media in lieu of paper notices to pass along information about marches and meetings on the sprawling capitol grounds. (Stickland, notoriously, wasn’t a fan of the orange-shirted protesters: He implied he wanted to shoot them.)

Silly ol’ rules, applying to everyone equally! But Stickland didn’t let something as piddly as the effort to keep the iconic, 127-year-old pink building from turning into a bulletin board stop him from throwing a fit when his fellow Republican, Rep. Charlie Geren, removed the sign from Stickland’s nameplate.

“We are about to start cutting each other to shreds,” Stickland warned the Austin American-Statesman, adding that his beef wasn’t just about paper fetus nameplates, but about ethics in games journalism. Er, I mean, about Stickland believing his uber-conservative bills—perhaps most notably his proposal that would allow the open carry of unlicensed firearms—are being stymied by his more moderate, and more politically powerful, Republican counterparts.

But nine of Stickland’s 14 proposed bills have already been referred to committees. I guess that’s what quashing legislation looks like to Jonathan Stickland? Who knows! Just remember this the next time someone starts crowing about how the left eats its own. Stickland—and the rest of the highly divisive Tea Party members of the Texas legislature—are practically stuffing their napkins into their collars.

In the spirit of that metaphor, let’s talk about the meat of the matter. Yes, Stickland’s “former fetus” sign lends itself to all manner of easy joke fodder: Insert “former fetus, current dipshit” and variations here. But this isn’t just a topic ripe for mockery. It’s an issue of life and death for the people in Texas who rely on Planned Parenthood, and other specialized providers of reproductive health care, for affordable cancer screenings and treatment.

See, the anti-choice lobby group Texas Right to Life passed out the “former fetus” signs to anti-choice lawmakers—Stickland included—in advance of Planned Parenthood’s lobby day, when supporters of the health-care provider meet with their elected representatives to talk about reproductive medical services. And this year, many Republicans—again, Stickland included, if we are to take his “former fetus” placard as a signal—are preparing to try and oust Planned Parenthood from participating in the state’s breast and cervical cancer screening program.

To do so, these legislators are willing to put non-Planned Parenthood providers in limbo by re-tiering the way public funds are allocated, putting organizations that provide specialty cancer care and treatment at the end of the receiving line for state funds for…cancer care and treatment. In turn, this will put low-income Texans who need that care in real danger.

All in the service of scoring political points with Texas’ most conservative voters.

By posting his “fetus” sign, Stickland reaffirmed the lengths to which he and his ilk are willing to go to to deny Texans the health care they need. (Though, notably, Houston area Republican Rep. Sarah Davis has publicly stood up to the anti-choice bullies among her colleagues in recent days.) Hell, Stickland’s not even willing to talk about keeping Planned Parenthood in the cancer screening program with his constituents. Not only did he declare himself a “former fetus”—as if that’s not a given, as if Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards couldn’t make the same claim—but he posted a Facebook status declaring himself to be “pro-life” and saying, “Organizations that murder children are not welcome in my office.”

If Stickland is aware of an organization that murders children, he should probably report said organization to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. But if he’s referring to the fact that he’s willing to withhold cancer treatment from the poorest Texans because some Planned Parenthood affiliates provide legal abortion care, he should probably reexamine that statement.

After all, Stickland appears more than willing to let low-income Texans die of breast and cervical cancer in service of his political aspirations. That’s not murder, but it’s certainly not anything approaching “pro-life.” If protecting children is really his priority, he might want to start there.

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