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Editorial cartoon (8/9/2017)

I'd like to think that Republican state Reps. Andre Jacques, Jesse Kremer and the other GOP legislative zealots who so desperately want to put endless restrictions on women's choice, close Planned Parenthood clinics and limit what the UW-Madison Medical School can teach about abortion would take time to read a recent New Yorker piece about what similar laws have done to women's health in Texas.

Just like in Wisconsin, a group of Texas Republican legislators has been working to impose their ideological views on everything from abortion to contraception, from gun laws to social programs, while ignoring the issues that truly can make a difference in people's lives.

New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright took an extraordinarily in-depth look in a recent issue of the magazine at how the culture wars have impacted Texans, especially the working poor and low-income women. It's an eye-opening account.

Back in 2011 when Rick Perry was still governor of Texas and was gearing up to make his failed bid for the GOP nomination for president — the one with the "oops" moment when during a debate he couldn't remember the name of one of the departments he was promising to abolish — he signed a bill requiring all women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before doing so.

It was one of several pieces of legislation that ultraconservatives, led by then state senator and now Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, were able to push through the Legislature, including reducing the family planning budget from $111.5 million to $37.9 million. The result, Wright notes, was the closing of 82 family planning clinics in the state.

"After the family planning budget was cut, there was a disproportionate rise in births covered by Medicaid because so many women no longer had access to birth control," he reports. 

The closing of the Planned Parenthood clinics also blocked many women from getting scans for breast and ovarian cancer.

What's equally troubling is that between 2010 and 2014, the proportion of women who died in childbirth in Texas doubled, from 18.6 per hundred thousand live births to 35.8 which, Wright says, is the worst in the nation and higher than the rate in many developing countries.

The figure, he adds, represents 600 dead women.

Researchers are quick to point out that the increase can't be completely pinned on the restrictive legislation, but, as the magazine Obstetrics & Gynecology noted, "In the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a two-year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely."

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Nevertheless, Texan politicians like Patrick, Perry and others have hailed their attacks on Planned Parenthood  as "victories" for women's health, like Jacque and other Wisconsin Republicans claim when they make similar attacks here.

But zealots like Jacque have never been known for looking beyond their own personal beliefs. His bill to prevent the UW Medical School from training resident physicians in abortions could likely cause a shortage of OB-GYN doctors in the state.

No matter. He and too many of his colleagues don't seem to care that their policies would make life more difficult for low-income women to the point of endangering not only their health, but possibly their lives.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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