On Oct. 2, Red State Women, a Texas-based PAC of Republican female lobbyists and legislative staffers, kicked off its statewide Female Fact(Her) tour in Dallas, Texas. Established earlier this year, the PAC is aiming to counter the “war on women” narrative that galvanized female support for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful state Sen. Wendy Davis and to mobilize its base to support her staunchly conservative opponent, state Attorney General Greg Abbott. The Female Fact(Her) campaign is designed to serve this purpose by highlighting how Texas women have flourished under Republican government, with particular emphasis on women holding leadership positions in the workplace.
But for Texas women — especially those who are not wealthy and white and live outside major urban centers — this has become increasingly hard to believe. Just a few hours after the launch of the Fact(Her) tour, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction against parts of House Bill 2 (HB2), the state’s restrictive new abortion code. The legislation, signed into law by current Gov. Rick Perry and supported by Abbott, was passed last year, despite a 13-hour filibuster by Davis.
The law, which had already forced the closure of roughly half of the state’s abortion clinics, imposes stringent and expensive new requirements on women’s health facilities. Last week’s action by the Fifth Circuit left only a handful of clinics still able to operate, effectively denying access to abortions and a host of other reproductive services to most of Texas.
Red State Women’s Female Fact(Her) campaign has not commented extensively on the state of women's health services in Texas, instead simply praising HB 2 as "pro-life, pro-woman" legislation, citing increased facility and safety requirements for abortion clinics, but ignoring the real (and intended) effect of the law: the shut down of most clinics.
But the shuttering of the facilities has not just affected the availability of abortions, it has dramatically decreased access to basic health services like cervical cancer screenings, STI testing, contraception, and, in some cases, prenatal care. Even before the closures, Texas ranked 40th in the nation for the state of overall women's health with self-administered abortions on the rise and maternal mortality rates that have quadrupled over the past 15 years.
The appeals court ruling highlights only the most recent in a string of laws curtailing Texas women's access to health care, and these new changes are poised to hit Latina and immigrant women particularly hard. Texas' Latinas — 30 percent of the state's female population and an increasingly important voting demographic — are more likely to be of reproductive age, uninsured or living in poverty and are more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy. For these women, the reproductive health safety net is critical.
One particularly devastating closure is the McAllen clinic, the only abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley. The area, which is almost 90 percent Hispanic, is home to many recent immigrants to the United States. With the closure of McAllen, these women — both undocumented and legally present immigrants — must now pass through the immigration enforcement checkpoints that line the valley in order to travel more than 200 miles to the nearest abortion clinic.
This restrictive trend is likely to continue under an Abbott administration. On multiple occasions, Abbott has said he does not believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances, even in cases of incest or rape — a position contrary to that of 68 percent of Texans [PDF]. Still, Red State Women has not given up; on its website it argues that women’s health care thrives by noting that 92 percent of all registered nurses are female. Pay no mind if so many of the rest of the state's women can't afford to go see them.