Politics is killing mothers in Texas | Jessica Valenti

The state’s maternal death rate is the highest in the developed world. Those denying women reproductive healthcare on ideological grounds are to blame

When it comes to women’s progress, the United States doesn’t exactly bring home the gold. We rank 72nd in women’s political participation, with women holding less than 20% of congressional seats. Paid maternity leave? The United States comes in last. But at long last, we’re number one at something: Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

This dubious honor is a recent one, with a study showing that the rate of women dying from pregnancy complications doubled from 2010-2014. It’s not a coincidence, of course, that there was another major happening around women’s health in Texas during those years: the deliberate closure of clinics that provide abortion and a drastic funding cut to the state’s family planning budget.

As my colleague Molly Redden points out, Texas gutted the state’s family planning budget by more than $73m in 2011, forcing clinics to shut down and dramatically reducing the number of women they could provide services to. By 2014, 600 women had died from pregnancy-related complications.

It’s almost as if what feminists have been saying for years is true: limiting reproductive rights hurts women across the board. Access to reproductive care is necessary not just to prevent or end pregnancies, but to ensure healthy outcomes for those who choose to carry their pregnancies to term.

Sarah Wheat of the Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas told the Dallas Morning News that these clinics were “an entry point into the health care system” for many women, especially those with fewer resources.

“Chances are they’re going to have a harder time finding somewhere to go to get that first appointment.”

It’s an ironic but telling turn of events for the activists and legislators in Texas who insisted that laws shuttering abortion clinics were about protecting women’s health – a claim that the supreme court thoroughly debunked.

In the decision to overturn Texas’ extreme anti-choice law, the opinion read: “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

Instead of helping women, the law hurt women. But for the politicians and activists who want to stop them from accessing their right to abortion at all costs, women’s health was never really the point.

If Texas wants to turn this horror show around, officials need to start supporting women’s choices, give up their transparent and cruel war on reproductive rights, and stop rejecting the expansion of Medicaid, which could provide much-needed help and care to the state’s vulnerable communities. And with Zika becoming more of a risk for Americans, these steps cannot come soon enough.

Women’s health is not a political chip to be played; it’s not an afterthought. Our health and lives – whether we choose to have children or not - are central to the health of our country and communities. Women in Texas, women in America, deserve better than this.


Jessica Valenti

The GuardianTramp

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