EL PASO – A controversial law passed during the 83rd session of the Texas State Legislature in 2013 that restricts women’s reproductive health options drew strong criticism at a gathering here of state legislators from the El Paso area.
The bill restricts abortions after 20 weeks and mandates that clinics must meet the same standards as major surgical health-care facilities. Governor Rick Perry signed it into law on July 18 in a second special session after a filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis (D) on June 25 that drew national attention.
Rep. Marisa Marquez (D -77), Rep. Naomi Gonzalez (D-76) and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-75) agreed that the legislation was detrimental to an individual’s health and that the legislation was biased against women.
“When the heat is on and you have something explode the way it did you really do see the true character of Texas women,” Marquez said. “You also see the face of those who sit quietly and you didn’t know where they stood and now you do.”
Marquez explained that she was not condoning abortion but she said, women need to have options. “What comes next?” Marquez said. “Do we start regulating medicine? Do we start saying who can have chemotherapy and who cannot? Where is that line? This is not just for women this is a man’s and woman’s issue.”
Two women among some 100 constituents attending the meeting said they had formed their own Political Action Committee and named it the “Stand With El Paso Women, PAC.” Expressing their frustration on the issue, Lyda Ness and Andra Litton said they formed the PAC in reaction to what they called the restrictive legislation that was passed. They said their goal is to help individuals who are pro-choice, and who are pro-women’s health issues when it comes to women having health care options.
“If you’re talking about five clinics being left out of 42, it means women aren’t going to be able to go get cervical cancer screenings, HIV testing, PAP smears and mammograms. That’s a family health care issue,” Ness said. “We are going to see a horrific impact on family planning issues; we already have a high teen pregnancy rate in Texas.”
The Texas legislature also cut funding for the Texas Women’s Healthcare Program, which was an extension of the Medicaid program that allowed low-income women such as students to get birth control and yearly PAP smear exams.
“When the Texas legislature continues to attack those options for young women, it is severely detrimental to everyone here in El Paso,” Litton said.
Richard Pineda, UTEP Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the Sam Donaldson Center moderated the discussion, which was also attended by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D), and State Representatives. Joe Pickett (D), and Joe Moody (D).
“Having these folks be here to talk about different parts of the legislative process is important,” said Pineda. “You see how connected they are to issues of the community.”
Other legislation discussed included bill HB 1597, or the process in which ad valorem taxes are paid based on property valuation in the county. Rep. Mary Gonzalez said that she had people on fixed incomes in mind who pay these taxes.
“Why don’t we give people an opportunity to catch up on their taxes,” Mary Gonzales said. “A lot of people need a break, maybe an installment plan, which was one of the ideas that was brought up.”
Senator Rodriguez and Rep. Naomi Gonzalez brought up bill SB 120 which funds a Health Science Building in El Paso and the opportunity it represents to draw more funding for institutions of higher learning. He explained that not only was it an opportunity for citizens to gain a better education, but that it would also bring a large economic impact to the community.
“It had been the number one priority for us,” Rodriguez said. “One thing it does besides giving us more economy from Lubbock, is that it positions us to get more funding of higher education and that is critical.”
Another bill, HB 343, which requires El Paso school districts to provide financial disclosure statements when individuals campaign for positions as school board trustees was passed on June 14 and was backed by Marquez, Naomi Gonzalez, Joe Pickett, Moody and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he was concerned about corruption in the school districts. “It’s simple, we are not going to wait for the rest of Texas to address transparency and accountability issues in their districts,” he said. “We have to do our jobs in ensuring that we are doing the best we can for our students.” Since that meeting, Rodriguez has requested that the U.S. Department of Education launch an investigation into policies affecting federal accountability standards at all Texas school districts.
Mary Gonzalez said she supported bill HB 1081, which was also signed into law on June 14 that dealt with a 10-year prohibition on dairy farms in areas of Texas such as El Paso County that are considered high-risk zones for bovine tuberculosis.
“We were able to get House Bill 1081 out of the Legislature and it was signed by the Governor which will allow the process to bring back dairy farms. The state has lost 11 percent of its dairies across it and if we keep losing 11 percent a year, where will we get our milk from?”