Guest post by Mary Pauline Lowry, whose new book “Wildfire” will be published in October. Her previous novel, “The Earthquake Machine,” was a Texas girl’s coming of age story that received wide critical praise.
When I was in high school–to quote the television show Portlandia– “the dream of the 90s” was alive and well in Texas. Ann Richards was Governor, and in my required health class, my teacher taught us all about contraception. (I particularly remember her adamantly exhorting, “Don’t use the pull out method!” which, in retrospect, seems like particularly sage advice to give to a bunch of teens). Abortion was also legal and available throughout the state.
But starting in the mid-90s, Governor George Bush pushed hard for schools to abandon sex education requirements in lieu of teaching “abstinence-only” curricula that discouraged teens from having sex, but provided zero information about how to prevent pregnancy (and STDs) when they did have sex. Governor Rick Perry followed Bush’s legacy of working to keep teenagers as ignorant as possible about their bodies and their reproductive health, and the result was that by 2009, only 6% of Texas public schools provided medically accurate information about contraception and STD prevention.
Predictably, teen pregnancies spiked, and since then Texas has consistently remained in the ranks of the top five states in the nation with the highest teen pregnancy rates. And according to the nonprofit Child Trends, as of 2011, 23% of teen births in Texas were repeats. This legacy of Republican leadership in Texas is an embarrassment.
While Republican law and policymakers have channeled millions into educational programs that ensure many adolescents in Texas will not be taught about contraceptives in school, they’ve worked with even more vigor to ensure that abortion is inaccessible to most residents of the state. Despite Senator Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster to block Senate Bill 5, a proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers, and mandate that a doctor who performs abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, Governor Perry called for a second special session to allow for the abortion restrictions to be passed.
As a result, by September 2014, there will be only six abortion clinics in a state that covers 268,820 square miles.
This will make abortion virtually inaccessible for many Texas women, particularly those who are low-income, or being abused by an intimate partner. As The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity so concisely puts it: “People across the state will have to travel hundreds of miles to access safe and legal services. Anyone seeking an abortion in west Texas or the Rio Grande Valley will have to travel the farthest distances.”
So now we have a situation where, thanks to Republican laws and policies, teens in Texas aren’t given medically accurate information about birth control, and women—unless they live in an urban center or have money for both an abortion and travel expenses—have no access to safe, medical abortions.
And while Wendy Davis has shown that it is possible to go from being a teenage mother to a state senator with a law degree from Harvard, there are thousands of other young women who will not have the natural abilities, support, perseverance, and luck needed to transcend young motherhood and poverty.
Davis made a national name for herself by defending women’s right to choose in Texas; but her sensible platform extends beyond her desire for women to have access to abortions. Her stance on abortion rights and sex education can be seen as representative of her overall beliefs and vision for Texas. Wendy Davis believes in equal pay for women, civil and marriage rights for gays and lesbians. She has also shown a passion for access to jobs and education for veterans, increased pay for teachers, job creation, and government accountability.
Her life story and her voting record as a Texas Senator together demonstrate both her commitment to improving the lives of her constituents–including the low-income and underserved–and her understanding that education and economic opportunity can be transformative.
Of course I’m for Wendy because of her heroic work to protect women’s reproductive rights. The filibuster that rocketed her to national prominence showed her dedication and her character; but I believe it’s just the beginning of the good work Wendy Davis is capable of. If elected to Governor of Texas she will take that same passion and apply it to a myriad of social and economic issues that will ultimately better the lives of Texans across the state.
No one can bring back the “dream of the 90s,” but Wendy might be able to help us wake up from the nightmare of the last 20 years of Republican leadership and–with our support–help create a Texas of which we can be proud.