Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Planned Parenthood of Texas Lobby Day

I am politically involved because it gives me a feeling of deep satisfaction and pride. Every time I go to a meeting, learn something, or otherwise participate in our political process, I walk away feeling that I have fulfilled part of my duty as an American citizen. And, because I believe in government by the people, for the people, doing my patriotic duty makes me happy all the way down to my toes.

Well, attending the North Texas Planned Parenthood Lobby day gave me this feeling in spades. This was the best-planned event I have ever attended, and a fantastic learning experience.

Two busloads of (mostly) women wearing pink left the Dallas office at 7:00 AM, which was quite the sacrifice for me considering that I normally GET UP at, oh, about 8. The organizers had Starbucks coffee, granola bars, croissants, and muffins on the bus, as well as water and juice. The three hours on the way down flew by as we went over the lobbying materials in detail, chatted with old friends and made new ones.

When we arrived at Austin, we first went to the Convention Center for a rally. About 700 - 800 people from Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton, San Antonio, and Houston, filled the room. Houston brought EIGHT buses! First, we heard from Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe vs. Wade in front of the Supreme Court. She told us that it was time the younger generation took up the banner. Well, with the room full of women, many of them student groups, this looked like a good start. We also heard from State Representatives Jessica Farrar and Dawnna Dukes.

After that, it was off to the capitol. It's been a long time since I was actually in the building, so I got to be impressed all over again at how beautiful it is. It's more than just the impressive dome or the high ceilings, though – the place really is an architectural treasure just for the wonderful small details: the intricately carved molding around the doors, the patterned frosted glass in each transom. Even the door-hinges were specially cast, with ornate patterns and the words "Texas Capitol." (I stole this from the Texas State Historical Society's website:)

My group of six planned what we were going to say as we enjoyed lunch at the capitol cafeteria. The materials we were given were very thorough. On the left hand side of the folder, a summary agenda with the bills we wanted to talk about, and detailed issue sheets for each bill. On the left side of the folder, maps of the capitol, background information on Senators and Representatives, an office directory for every office, and a list of every volunteers' representatives.

The four points we emphasized were:

1. Full funding of family planning in the appropriations bill.

Did you realize that 30% of Texans are completely UNINSURED? This costs the state billions in emergency care because these folks wait until they are very sick and then they go to the emergency room. Funding family planning helps women get screenings and preventative health care and catches problems early when they are easier to treat.

One point is simply because family planning funds go to Planned Parenthood, these funds do not go for abortions; they are prohibited from doing so and Planned Parenthood keeps this separate.

Also, Senators Ogden and Williams are sponsoring a rider, Rider 34b, which would prohibit family planning funds from going to agencies which also use separate, privately-raised funds for abortion services. This is directly aimed at Planned Parenthood. This would unfortunately keep many women in rural areas from getting family planning services because Planned Parenthood clinics are often the only source there. We asked our legislators to oppose this rider.

2. Support the Medicaid Waver for family planning.

This bill, SB 747, has bipartisan report and is a no-brainer. A similar bill passed in 2001 but was vetoed by Gov. Perry. Basically the deal is that Medicaid currently funds family planning for women who are living at 17% of the "federal poverty level" --- this is about $3000 a YEAR. You have to be dirt-poor to get it. But pregnant women living at 185% of the FPL, which is about $35,000 a year for a family of four, can get Medicaid for help with their prenatal, postnatal, and delivery care.

Now, if Texas passes this waiver, then women all the way up to 185% FPL can get family planning help, which would LOWER the number of women who need Medicaid for help with their pregnancy medical needs. Also, for family planning, Medicaid would pay 90% and Texas would pay 10%, whereas for pregnancy care, currently, Medicaid pays 60% and Texas pays 40%.

This bill would save Texas over $131 million over a five year period. AND, it's currently sponsored by REPUBLICAN Senator John Carona.

Here's hoping Gov. Goodhair has the good sense NOT to veto it when and if he gets it this time.

3. Support emergency contraception in the E.R.

This bill, HB 676 / SB 389, would make sure that women who are raped are told about emergency contraception in the emergency room. Most women don't know about this and don't know to ask for it, and yet, obviously, this is a big worry to these women. This is the AMA standard of care for sexual assault survivors and should be required by law. 60% of emergency rooms in Texas do not tell these women about this option.

I'd like here to point out that emergency contraception is simply a higher dose of the hormones that go into the birth control pill and is not "the abortion pill." It prevents pregnancy but will do nothing to harm a fetus if the woman is already pregnant.

4. Vote AGAINST the refusal clause.

Ok, this one's a real stinker. This is the reason most women on the bus were here today.

Do you remember this? A Denton woman was raped and got a prescription for emergency contraception, which she took to an Eckerd's pharmacy. Instead of filling the prescription, ALL THREE of the pharmacists refused to fill it and instead publicly lectured her on morality.

Think about that for a moment.

Now, she WAS able to subsequently fill the prescription at the Walgreen's across the street, and the pharmacists were fired, and Eckerd's came out and made a statement that this action was against their rules. Fine.

Enter Texas Representative Frank Corte, who has just sponsored a bill that would make it OKAY for pharmacists to do this. And keep their job. And they wouldn't have to tell their employer they felt this way ahead of time. And they wouldn't have to post any kind of notice on the door of their pharmacy telling women that they don't dispense this medicine. So you could just walk in, present your prescription, and get it denied for WHATEVER REASON THE PHARMACIST FELT LIKE. Maybe because he didn't like the way you looked. Or dressed.

AND, because the bill defines EC as "an elevated dose of hormones used to prevent pregnancy," this bill could theoretically be used to prevent women from obtaining not just EC but also THEIR REGULAR BIRTH CONTROL PILLS.

Can you tell I'm not really happy about this?


Ok, now that you've got the lowdown on the content, back to the story of Lobby Day.

We had appointments at two offices. Our first appointment was at 1:30 with Senator Todd Staples of District 3 in East Texas. We got to talk to his chief of staff, who ushered us into his office and very politely heard our points. She was noncommittal about the bills, saying that that the Senator hadn't really studied them, but she was very polite and it was enjoyable meeting with her.

After that we dropped by a few offices and signed their guestbooks. We visited my representative, Bill Keffer of House 107, and I made sure to point out to the aide that I was a constituent. Next up, Senator John Carona, of Senate 16, whose aide very politely chatted with us in the hall and heard our viewpoints on the various bills. He asked us if we lived in the Senator's district and I pointed out that I lived not only in the Senator's district, I also lived in the Senator's PRECINCT. Heh heh heh.

Then we had our appointment with Senator Royce West's office. It was nice meeting with someone who was in our court, so to speak. The aide took lots of notes and we were able to talk intelligently about the bills. We also spotted Senator West and Senator Carona in the hall as we were waiting, so that was fun.

Our last scheduled stop for the day was Rep. Mary Denny's office. She represents House 63 which takes up a big chunk of Flower Mound, Roanoke, etc. It's around but does not include Denton proper. Gee, I wonder if that makes her district more red...? Anyway, even though we had a constituent of hers in the group, the woman in the front room was downright ugly to us, basically telling us that they'd already heard our points from another group, that the representative was quite conservative, blah blah, and even though we tried to make the point that this is about women's heath, she was clearly not having any of it. Snotty witch; she needs to be nicer to members of the public. It's not like we wanted more than about 10 minutes of her time.

Anyway, we finished the day with a visit to the Gov's reception room, where we signed the book and admired the furnishing, and then we adjourned to the steps to have our photos taken. We relaxed with our wine and cheese on the ride home, happy to have participated in our democracy. My first lobby day ever!

Now I want to go again!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a 38 mother of three, and thank goodness I brought my children with me to Walgreen's to pick up my birth control pill prescription, because the activist pharmacist was not going to let me. When I handed my prescription to the cashier, she said, "oh wait", she showed it to the pharmacist, who then came over and looked very seriously at me and my family. Then she said, "Well you have kids, okay." WTF???! Gee thanks for the favor, toots. Since when is it her business what birth control I use? I asked her if she asked men filling viagra prescriptions if she asked them if they were using them to have sex with women using birth control pills? Give me a break.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Practical Activist said...

WOW. Do you live in Texas? I can't believe this stuff is going on. The best analogy I heard was this: If you are a vegetarian and you take a job in a steak restaurant, do you really think your employer's going to let you refuse to serve steak?

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No - I live on the west coast of Florida - Jebland.

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