Ann Richards warned us; now we march to protect women’s rights

Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman, January 19, 2017

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But when she got to women's reproductive rights, she became deadly serious. [Ann Richards] told us never to take them for granted, that the day would come when those rights would be under siege.

I’ll be marching in the Texas version of the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. Why? Because women’s reproductive rights are being taken away, just as the late Gov. Ann Richards predicted.

On a brisk night in October of 1990, many of us had gathered for a hastily called rally for gubernatorial candidate Ann Richards. She was standing on a makeshift stage in the parking lot of the American Civil Liberties Union building on Lavaca Street, across from the Capitol.

We had watched her electric keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, where she proclaimed: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards in high heels,” so we were excited to see her in person. She talked about issues facing the state with clarity, charm and irreverent, quick-draw quips. But when she got to women’s reproductive rights, she became deadly serious. She told us never to take them for granted, that the day would come when those rights would be under siege.

That seemed far-fetched, but I tucked the scary thought away for a day I hoped would never come.

But here we are.

ann richards 300According to the Guttmacher Institute, by last year more than half the states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are deemed “hostile to abortion” based on number of restrictions.

Not to be outdone by Southern states, nor deterred by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Texas’ senseless and extreme abortion rules, Texas continues in its tireless, jihadist quest to oppress women by depriving them of abortion services.

It’s interesting how quick our leaders are to hurt poor women. Despite Planned Parenthood’s being indisputably the provider of choice in underserved areas — and despite abortion comprising less than five percent of its services — state health officials moved in December to oust the agency as a Medicaid health provider, a move the agency immediately filed suit to block.

Financially, the effect on the agency would be minimal since only around five percent of its revenue comes from Medicaid. But it would cut 11,000 women from receiving any of its services including birth control and life-saving screenings. Importantly, it would devastate morale, as the people who work there are deeply motivated to help low-income women.

Planned Parenthood has been around for 100 years and is deeply trusted by health care professionals and women of all income levels. My neonatal intensive care co-workers and I have referred countless mothers to the agency.

This session, priority bills are being introduced by the lieutenant governor to prohibit third trimester abortion, ban insurance coverage of abortion and ban abortion providers from donating fetal tissue for medical research. Really? That makes about as much sense as outlawing organ donation.

Another bill would eliminate an exception that allows for third-trimester abortions for fetuses with “severe and irreversible abnormalities” that are incompatible with life outside the womb. And Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, has proposed a constitutional amendment “guaranteeing the right to life of unborn children and prohibiting abortion to the extent authorized under federal constitutional law.” I guess the senator hasn’t heard which way Roe v. Wade went.

Facts, science and reason — endangered concepts — do not support legislators’ assault on abortion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the abortion rate has fallen to well below the 1973 rate when abortion was illegal and Roe v. Wade decided. So, what’s the point?

On Jan. 20, a confidence man who bragged about assaulting women will be inaugurated as the U.S. president. The day after, tens of thousands of us will gather on the south grounds of the Capitol at noon to demonstrate that the right of women to freely decide whether and when to have children is important. As Ann Richards said, we’ve got to fight to keep our rights from being taken away.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN, CNS, FAAN, is a lifelong Austin resident and retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse. She writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.