In the latest piece of depressing women's health news from the Texas Legislature, The Dallas Morning News reported today that the House has voted to deny state funding to public hospitals that either perform "elective abortions" or "do business with entities that provide 'abortion-related services,'" whatever that means.
But that's just one of the two anti-abortion measures that are part of the massive healthcare bill currently working its way through the Lege. The other, sponsored by Arlington Republican Bill Zedler, "would require women and their doctors fill out and submit to the state detailed questionnaires about their abortions."
"Huh?" you might be asking yourself right now, if you're me and you talk to yourself at your desk, safe in the silence left behind by your entire office's sad little Chick-fil-A run. "Isn't that a violation of HIPAA and all those other fancy medical confidentiality laws?"
Well, yeah, which is why people freaked out when a similar bill was passed by Oklahoma's Legislature in March 2010. That law would have collected detailed data on each abortion performed in the state and posted it on a public, state-run website. No, it wouldn't have included the identifying information of individual patients, unless you consider the following to be identifying information:
1. Date of abortion
2. County in which abortion performed
3. Age of mother
4. Marital status of mother
(married, divorced, separated, widowed, or never married)
5. Race of mother
6. Years of education of mother
(specify highest year completed)
7. State or foreign country of residence of mother
8. Total number of previous pregnancies of the mother
(Live births, miscarriages, and induced abortions)
As many critics of the Oklahoma bill pointed out, that sure seems like enough info to identify women in smaller communities, doesn't it? Gov. Brad Henry ultimately vetoed the bill, saying that it didn't provide an exception for victims of rape or incest and would probably set the state up for a costly legal battle.
I called Zedler's office to try to get a copy of the proposed questionnaire for Texas. They promised to get right back to me -- but so far, radio silence. In the meantime, I talked to Holly Morgan, director of communications for Planned Parenthood of North Texas.
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"It's an incredible invasion of privacy," she said of the proposed bill. "It's information-gathering, and it's another way to shame women: 'We're going to make you reveal all this information, we're going to keep you on a list somewhere.'" It's part of a broader pattern in the Legislature, she said, to make it "more difficult, time-consuming, expensive to get abortion care services."
Also, just plain old medical services of any kind, if they're at all lady-related, Morgan added. The Women's Health Program -- you know, the one that Texas politicians just cut funding for to make sure Planned Parenthood wouldn't get any state money -- funds such things as breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings and annual exams. "All the things," she said, "that both keep you healthy and give you the supplies and the knowledge you need to keep you from getting pregnant in the first place."
"They're just setting women up to fail," she said. "You can't win if you're of reproductive age in Texas."
Translation: Welcome to Loserville, women of Texas. Population: us.