When I became a mother, I became a feminist. I was always for equal rights, but becoming a mother gave me a front row seat to the struggle of women and the strength they must possess to endure and overcome all they are up against. Systemically speaking, sexism exists across a broad spectrum. But there is a place in the United States in the 21st century where sexism is especially deadly. Here misogyny dictates a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health and well-being and that of her family. This threat is so great that more women and newborns are being carelessly neglected to the point of death. This place is my home. This place is Texas.
More women die in childbirth in the state of Texas than anywhere else in the developed world. The mortality rate of mothers here has steadily risen to a rate close to 40 in every 100,000 live births, and shows no sign of slowing. That is staggering, and should give everyone who cares about “family values” pause and the inspiration to find a solution. But unfortunately for Texas women and families, the legislative bodies of our great state do not prioritize women’s health, much to the detriment of our communities. As we speak, the Texas governing bodies are seeking to pass bills that limit women’s access to affordable health care, affordable birth control, safe and affordable abortions, and access to education about contraception and family planning. One such example is HB214, which recently passed the house. Some are calling it the “rape insurance” bill. It would require that women pay higher insurance premiums to cover an abortion except in cases of emergency. If you get pregnant from rape or incest, you’re basically out of luck. And yet, our congressmen and state senators continue to enjoy employment and the opportunity to create dangerous legislation that jeopardizes the lives of Texas mothers and babies. The multi-tiered solution going forward must include better leadership in Texas.
As a mother, a wife, and a feminist, I have been livid at the state of the country and its blatant disregard for the health and prosperity of women. I actively research and seek out candidates who are champions of women in all regards. In Texas, that includes placing the health of women as a priority in a campaign platform. I have found such a candidate in Chris Perri, who is running against the Republican incumbent, Roger Williams, for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. When I met Chris, he made it clear to me that he felt strongly about the assault on women’s health. He feels passionately about many issues, including universal health coverage and criminal justice reform, all of which I agree are top priorities. But as a woman, to hear a man address the importance of choice, rights, and good health care for women in Texas is a refreshing change to say the least.
Recently, Chris invited me to sit in on a round table with local experts in women’s health. This panel discussion was eye opening. It included an emergency room physician, a ObGyn, an educational activist for women’s rights, and a mom who is a compelling pro-choice advocate. Among the topics addressed was the limited access to health care for women in our nation. Both doctors, Dr. Ryan Allen and Dr. Nancy Binford, mentioned that low income women without insurance often went the duration of pregnancy without seeing a doctor, unless there was an emergency. This lack of access to care can lead to dangerous situations around pregnancy and delivery. Kearstyn Takemoto mentioned the misleading terminology regarding “safety” for women used by the legislature. We also saw this despicable use of the term used to push the hateful bathroom bill earlier this year. While claiming to champion women’s safety and the safety of newborns, ensuring limited access to healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood is actually making Texas moms less safe. In fact, a recent study found that after the state slashed spending to family planning and Planned Parenthood, the amount of abortions increased in Texas. This goes directly against every Anti-Choice advocate’s desired goal of limiting abortions in the United States. If they actually cared about less abortions in our state, they would advocate to keep clinics like Planned Parenthood open for the purposes of safe sex education and affordable access to contraception.
I want to highlight one person who was on the panel. As a mother, her story struck me as particularly important. Darla Barar is a fellow mother, Texan, and writer who is advocating for safe abortions by telling her story. Hers is that of a late term abortion, one that happened after 20 weeks with twins. When she received a troubling diagnosis for one of her baby girls, it meant that she was forced to make a choice no mother should have to make. She could have carried both babies to term, knowing that one would have a slim chance of survival and lead an incredibly painful and potentially short life. Continuing to carry her baby, Catherine, to term would also mean potentially endangering the life of her sister, Olivia. Darla and her husband made the excruciating and humane decision to terminate Catherine’s gestation, in order to give her sister a chance to live and be healthy. At the panel, Darla brought her beautiful 11 month old daughter Olivia. She has one living baby, but it’s evident that Darla carries both of her children in her heart and that she holds Catherine’s memory as a source of strength. It would be easy for Darla to not share her story. In a state like Texas, legislating against choice can lead to stigma and shame around abortion. But Darla doesn’t want any mothers to suffer the choice she had to make and have to deal with the asinine road blocks imposed by legislators who care more about limiting choice than the lives of moms and babies. Darla spoke at this panel because she believes in Chris Perri and knows that the path forward for safer pregnancies, deliveries, and choice will come when we elect people who care about women and moms.
It was never my intention to take an interest in politics as I have since the 2016 election. Desperate times call for active measures, and this is not the time in our history to sit on the sidelines. We all must ask ourselves what we can do by speaking out for what matters most to each of us. For me, as a mom and a woman, I refuse to see my choices and the choices of other women taken away because of a lack of separation between church and state. I refuse to let other moms who suffer complications from pregnancy and birth to go without access to proper health care. I refuse to hear the stories of mothers like Darla and to allow one more woman to be expected to carry shame for doing what’s best for her family. I refuse. It’s for this reason that I will continue to advocate and show up for candidates like Chris Perri, and anyone who is brave enough to enact change and fight for the rights of Texans. Men can’t relate to the plight of women in our society. It takes imagination and compassion to care about misogyny, sexism, and choices for women. And I appreciate Chris for using his sense of compassion to educate and fight for others. This is the way forward in Texas and our country. As we care for ourselves, we must care for others. As the aftermath of hurricane Harvey recently showed us, this is the true spirit of the people of Texas. And so we must now extend it to women and families.