Texas’s Culture Wars Have Created a Public Health Disaster for Women
A report from the impoverished Rio Grande Valley
In a warm afternoon in January, Lucy Felix steers down a bumpy dirt road in a dusty black Honda Element, a white megaphone in her lap. She hangs a right into the driveway of a dilapidated mobile home with boarded-up windows. “Ladies!” the bespectacled 43-year-old hollers in Spanish through the megaphone. “Meet us down the street in an hour! Come! There will be free food and prizes!”
Felix’s cries of mujeres and gratis could be confused for the promotional dance-club vans that roll around parts of Latin America, blaring Reggaeton at ungodly hours. But she’s shouting about Pap smears, not complimentary drinks before 11 p.m., and she’s in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, not Mexico City.
Felix, a Texas field organizer for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and her petite, perfectly coiffed 65-year-old mother, Lucila Ceballos, have been leading reproductive health workshops in the valley, an economically depressed stretch of borderland at the state’s southernmost tip, since 2011. That’s when the GOP-controlled Texas legislature slashed $73 million from the state’s family-planning budget, leaving approximately 147,000 women without access to affordable preventative health care and shuttering more than 50 clinics statewide. It’s a move that women’s rights advocates-and some legislators-say is more about restricting access to abortion and contraception than saving money. “Of course this is a war on birth control and abortions and everything-that’s what family planning is supposed to be about,” declared state Rep. Wayne Christian, a Republican, in an interview with The Texas Tribune. Lawmakers also passed a ban on “abortion affiliates,” thereby barring all Planned Parenthood health centers from receiving state funding. The legislation is estimated to impact upwards of 50,000 women, many of them with low incomes.
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