Gov. Perry, get your abortion facts straight

Natalie San Luis

Last Tuesday, a group of reproductive choice advocates gathered on the steps of the Texas State Capitol to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that protected women’s reproductive freedom. The location for this gathering was not coincidental: Many Texas lawmakers, including Gov. Rick Perry, have recently expressed intent to make abortion “a thing of the past,” starting with procedures involving any pregnancy that is more than 20 weeks along.

At a press conference last December, Gov. Perry encouraged the Legislature to pass the ban on abortions “at the point a baby can feel the pain of being killed,” citing inconclusive evidence regarding a fetus’s capacity for pain at 20 weeks. UT senior Katy Waters, vice president of Voices for Reproductive Justice, said, “When abortions are that late, they’re usually medically necessary. Most abortions occur before then, and abortion is already restrictive enough.”

Furthermore, the ban is not based on sound science. According to the most comprehensive scientific study, “Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Available Evidence,” published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005, fetuses do not develop the capability to sense pain until the third trimester. (Ironically, many of the legislators who are most dedicated to preventing potential fetal pain are also passionately defending the right to kill animals recreationally with firearms during this session.)

Legal action grounded in faulty science and misrepresentation of evidence can justify any number of rights violations and destructive policies. Regardless of partisan divides, citizens should hold their political leaders accountable when they distort the truth to further an agenda.

This obligation is particularly relevant for Texans. Our state lawmakers have a tendency to disregard logic to service political agendas, especially when it comes to women’s health and rights. In the 18 months that have passed since the last legislative session, Texas women and women’s health clinics have faced an uphill battle attaining basic health services aside from abortions. During the 2011 session, lawmakers slashed Texas’ family planning budget by two-thirds, despite Texas’ persistently high rate of unintended teen pregnancies. In addition, Planned Parenthood was cut from the Women’s Health Program, an initiative created to help women with low incomes access women’s wellness exams, cervical cancer screenings and birth control. The Planned Parenthood clinic closest to the UT campus on East 7th Street lost all its state funding, even though it does not offer abortion services. This decision was also based on shoddy data collection.  “Their research methods were terrible. They only asked clinics if they can provide abortions, not if they will, and only 50 percent of the clinics responded,” Waters said.

Other research has regularly shown that two factors significantly decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies, and, as a result, abortions: access to sex education and availability of contraceptives. And the Texas Legislature is notorious for fighting ardently against both.

Abortion rights will continue to be a divisive partisan issue for the foreseeable future. I’m an optimist, so I’m hoping that opposition to women’s health care will soon fizzle out. But the expectation of fair, honest and well-informed leaders and representatives should be a priority regardless of political affiliation. When legislation affects the health and well-being of half the population, the very least Gov. Perry can do is get his facts straight.

San Luis is a Plan II, Women’s and Gender Studies and English senior from Buda.