Is Texas Too Red for Raising Daughters?

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I write a fair amount of articles for the Houston Press that deal with having a progressive attitude when raising a daughter. Know what the comment I see the most often under those stories is...

"Wow, hard to believe this guy is from Texas."

Some mean that as a compliment, some mean it as an insult, and others are just baffled because Texas has become home of the whoppers. While Texas has been mostly republican-controlled since the 1960s, and conservative since we dragged her kicking and screaming from the hands of Santa Anna, the landscape is becoming danger-red because that conservative powerhouse has become almost entirely dominated by Tea Party and radical right-wing candidates.

It's a not a group of people who has historically had the best interest of women at heart, at least as far as giving them freedom and aid. As the father of a four-year-old girl about to enter Texas' public school system, I honestly wonder if it's time to pack up the Kid With One F and leave my ancestral home.

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There's our new lieutenant governor to consider. Dan Patrick utterly trounced David Dewhurst in the recent run-off election. Despite eyes being cast on Wendy Davis and her bid to take the governorship of Texas back for the Democrats, it's Patrick that may wield the greater power, whatever the outcome of that race. It's the lieutenant governor who most guides the Texas legislature, not the governor.

The laws that Patrick, known to his detractors as Taliban Dan, likes are the ones that have me fearing watching my daughter come of age in a time when he may still be serving. There's his troubling love of the idea of abortion providers no longer operating in the state for example. In the run-off debates Patrick said...

"This is a myth that Planned Parenthood has anything to do with women's health. Why are they closing clinics if they're making money on providing women's health? They're closing clinics because they make all their money taking the lives of babies."

Patrick was referring to a law he supported that enforced new, costly, and to most opponents of the law, unnecessary, restrictions upon Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers that has reduced the number of such clinics in Texas to just six. Unable to renovate to accommodate wider hallways, and the refusal of local hospitals to advance admitting privileges, many such clinics have closed.

The reality is that Planned Parenthood does have a lot to do with women's health. Abortions make up only 3 percent of its procedures. The vast majority of services they provide, often to low-income women, are annual well-women exams, contraception, prenatal care, cancer screenings, and sexually transmitted disease screening.

In a state where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned (and in which many women who have become pregnant cite as the clinics closing and being unable to access birth control they previously could as a reason), it's a troubling trend, but one that Patrick and other far-right politicians with a grip on Texas politics seem comfortable with.

Even if it shuts down other clinics that don't even provide abortions. Rick Perry may have gleefully bragged about making abortion harder to get in Texas, but I've not heard much from him or his party on what they plan to do for the poor women in Texas who are watching their health care options erode.

Did you know that access to birth control can actually save a woman who is afflicted with endometriosis, a disease that affects over 6 million women in the United States? My wife has it, and there's no reason to think my daughter couldn't. Access to birth control could be one of the only things that might ensure she might one day have children, but again, it's the sort of thing that is left behind in a quest to prove that someone loves babies more than they love the people who must bear them.

Certainly the governor's refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act didn't help many women below 133 percent of the federal poverty line. In a move that has cost the state millions of federal dollars, and was done in what seems to be the name of some kind of conservative élan, Texas singlehandedly shut thousands of women and children out of a chance for health insurance right at a moment when the state also eliminated many of the other options available.

What am I supposed to tell my daughter? That the place she lives in gives so little regard to the shameful number of women who rely on the state for help in healthcare and reproductive choice that it is willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces? Just to prove how "staunch" and "family centered" they are?

Of course, I'm sure opponents of my view will say that I should provide my own damned birth control for my slut child if I can't teach her not to fuck. Well, I do have some sweet health insurance now, thank you very much, but I didn't until recently, and I can't promise I will tomorrow. Fate's a fickle thing, and its capricious humor is hard to appreciate when your government purposely goes out of its way to cut the net.

As for her future sexual maturity, I prefer to teach her to be respectful and cautious, but not shameful. I certainly hope that by then, Texas textbooks will finally be over telling kids that abstinence alone should be considered and that condoms don't work.

The radicalized right's grip on the state's agenda affects women in so many ways. Those tight new voter ID laws enacted to stop the largely imaginary threat of voter fraud? They can affect up to 33 percent of women who do not normally carry identification that reflects their married name. That's assuming that my daughter will be able to marry at all if she turns out to be homosexual. She might be, I have no idea. Last time she pretend-married something it was a female teddy bear, and that's cute, but it also makes me wonder about a state where the ruling party made sure "conversion therapy" to "escape the homosexual lifestyle" was included in its platform.

Conversion therapy, like abstinence-only education, and pretending that limiting access to abortion doesn't just result in an uptick of coat hanger sales and terrifying hospital room visits, doesn't work. Well, that's not true. It works great if your cure for homosexuality involves suicide.

Luckily, the state will be there to help with its lax laws regarding the instruments that most often result in a fatal suicide attempt. To say nothing of the fact that keeping guns nice and easily available means she's 500 percent more likely to die in a domestic dispute where one is present.

Texas seems to be big on freedom. That's what I'm told at any rate. When it comes to women, the class my daughter will one day join, that freedom seems to come at a price. She's free to health care as long as she's not poor. She's free to choose, so long as her choices adhere to a strictly monitored status quo. She's free to arm herself, but not free to ever be comfortable in a situation where someone is armed.

Luckily, she and I are also free to leave. And it grows an ever more attractive prospect.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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