The True Cost of Fundamentalism: Women’s Health

In an editorial titled “Women at Risk,” today’s Houston Chronicle presented some very alarming facts:

  • Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world according to a report in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Between 2010 and 2014 the rate at which Texas women died from complications related to pregnancy doubled…”
  • Texas has the highest number of people without medical insurance in the country. In Texas, Medicaid, for the few that qualify for it, only covers a woman while she is pregnant and for sixty days after. “As a result, too many poor, uninsured women who have pre-existing conditions—such as high blood pressure, obesity, substance abuse, mental health issues, diabetes—go untreated before and after pregnancy, putting them and their babies at higher risk for complications.”
  • “Texas is in the top tier of states in pre-term and low birth-weight newborns; about 50,000 preemies a year.” Further, Texas ranks third, behind New Mexico and Mississippi in the number of teenage pregnancies.
  • “The loss of family planning clinics in Texas has, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, has resulted in a 27 percent spike among women who have lost access to contraception…According to a study by The Texas Policy Evaluation project, Texas women are more likely than their counterparts in other states to end a pregnancy without medical assistance.”

Put simply, the State of Texas is waging a war against women. This is not partisan rhetoric, but a sober statement of the unavoidable conclusion implied by these facts. Texas has conducted a furious vendetta against Planned Parenthood, the Affordable Care Act, and Medicaid expansion. Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of contraception in the country. Preposterous laws designed to place onerous restrictions on abortion clinics have worked just as intended. Over half of Texas clinics that provided abortions have been shuttered just since 2013. There is not a single such clinic between San Antonio and El Paso. The consequences of these actions are dire, as the above statistics show beyond a reasonable doubt.

Why? Are people in Texas just that much worse than people elsewhere? Having lived in Texas for twenty years now, I sometimes think that native Texan, the late, great Molly Ivins may have had a point when she said (paraphrasing) that Texas people are just like people everywhere else, only more so. When Texans are nice, they are the nicest people you could meet; when they are mean, they shame the rattlesnakes. Really, though, it does not take a Ph.D. in sociology to see that what is wrong with Texas is what is wrong with my home state of Georgia. What do Texas and Georgia have in common? Well, they are southern states, former members of the Confederacy, and each with a long, disgraceful history of Jim Crow segregation. Most obviously, though, what ties them together is a devotion to fundamentalist religion, the doctrine of the religious right, characterized by extreme social conservatism, biblical inerrancy, young-earth creationism, and an aggressive program of political activism.

The Texas State Legislature is largely constituted of fundamentalists elected to office by fundamentalists. The lieutenant governor of Texas is Dan Patrick, a true zealot, whose main agenda item for the current legislative session is his “bathroom bill,” intended to harass transgender people. The opposition to Planned Parenthood is obviously red meat that Texas politicians throw to their fundamentalist base. Fundamentalists oppose abortion, of course. Their opposition has nothing at all to do with being “pro life” in any meaningful sense (see the above-stated facts). Long ago, Gary Trudeau in Doonesbury pointed out the real motivation for their animus: They want promiscuous women to be punished by having to endure unwanted pregnancies. Punishing and controlling women is the thing; even minimizing abortion is not their main aim. After all, the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies is to make effective contraception readily available, but they are against contraception too. One dimwit opined as follows on TV (probably available on YouTube): “Back in my day, a girl would prevent pregnancy with an aspirin pill. She would hold it between her knees.” Hee hee! You’re a card, bubba! That’ll teach them whorin’ harlots!

So, fundamentalism has a cost, a terrible one, and women pay for it with their health and the health of their children. In the Age of Trump progressive secular people are in a “target rich” environment. So much is going so wrong that it is hard to know where to direct your attack. Should you zero in on the climate change denialists, the neo-racists, the anti-immigrant fanatics, the gun fetishists, the Putin apologists, the fossil fuel bullies, the Koch brothers, or whom? There is no worthier or more important target than the fundamentalism of today’s religious right. It is the rotten, evil ideological heart of the right-wing extremism that now passes for conservatism in the U.S. Fight it. Fight fundamentalism when it raises its ugly head in school board meetings. Write letters to the editor. Call it out on social media. Support science. Join and support (with money and/or your time) groups that oppose the fundamentalist agenda, groups like Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. Vote. VOTE goddammit! As always, the adage holds: “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”