Uncivil War

Uncivil War
Photograph by Jana Birchum/Austin Chronicle

It’s the Year of the Dragon, officially, but you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the Year of the War on Women, or the War Over Women, or the War Among Women, or the War About Whether There Is a War on Women. The trouble began in January, when a high-profile tussle between the Dallas-based breast cancer advocacy foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood brought the country’s tensions over abortion once more to the forefront. Komen had sought to eliminate its grants to Planned Parenthood, which, in addition to providing breast cancer screenings and a host of other health services for women (and some men), is also the nation’s largest provider of abortions. (The procedure represents 3 percent of its total services, which are used by one in five women during their lifetimes.) The response was ferocious, and Komen was quickly compelled to reverse its decision. This being an election year, the issue was instantly rated for campaign value. Democrats took to the airwaves to assault the latest front in a conservative “war on women,” and this bit of overheated rhetoric drove the so-called gender gap between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney to a whopping nineteen points (it has since subsided to single digits). 

The notion that one of our political parties has declared war against all women is obviously a crude form of pandering (there are, needless to say, many millions of women who are conservative Republicans). But it found traction (the phrase now turns up more than three million Google search results) because it reflected the sense, based entirely in reality, that over the past two years policies that affect women’s reproductive health care have been increasingly debated in Congress, in legislatures, and on cable news and that in some states these policies have been substantially changed. 

Texas is one of those states. Last year, our Legislature took significant action on bills relating to women’s health issues. Along mostly party lines, it passed the sonogram law, which requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound—and listen to a description of the fetus as well as its heartbeat—at least 24 hours beforehand; cut the state’s family planning budget (a fund that helps supply checkups, pregnancy tests, and other health services to low-income women) from $111 million to $38 million; and threw into doubt the future of the Women’s Health Program (a Medicaid fund worth around $36 million annually that provides many of the same services). Our cover story this month (“Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives”), by executive editor Mimi Swartz, explores what all this means, why it was done, and how it fits into the larger narrative of women in Texas.

Some readers will approve of these decisions, some will disapprove. And many in both camps will be women, which is why it’s unhelpful (and offensive) to refer to a war on women. It presumes that all women line up on one side of these issues, which they plainly don’t. Nonetheless, two facts are undeniable, and they compelled us to give Mimi’s excellent story such prominence: (1) these decisions will have far-reaching implications for women, and (2) they were made almost entirely by men. Women occupy just over 20 percent of the Texas Legislature, though they represent slightly more than half the population. (It will surprise no one that this is not just a Texas problem; as noted by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a widely viewed speech about the scarcity of women in leadership positions, only 9 of the 190 heads of state and only 13 percent of all the people in parliaments and legislatures around the world are women.) Would a more even gender split among our lawmakers have produced a similar result? Someday, hopefully, we’ll be able to answer that question.

One last, unrelated note: next month we’ll be introducing a completely redesigned TEXAS MONTHLY . The rule on redesigns is that they’re often more exciting and dramatic for a magazine’s staff than for a magazine’s readers, but I’m willing to wager that ours will be an exception to that rule. It’s a major effort, one that aims to move us forward while staying true to—and celebrating—our past. We’ve completely reimagined the Reporter section and made dozens of changes throughout that will make TEXAS MONTHLY  that much more enjoyable, engaging, informative, and useful. For now, enjoy the August issue, the last with these particular pages, and please join me in thanking them (the pages, that is) for their many years of loyal service.

Tags: POLITICS

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