Large parts of Texas are ‘contraceptive deserts’

Texas has a habit of pushing women to the edge of the conversation, but when it comes to healthcare policy the state straight up throws them off a cliff. 

Examples of Texas’ decisions to deprioritize women’s healthcare can be found in the state’s maternal mortality rate and the state’s pronounced lack of women’s clinics

One of the factors contributing to the lawmakers’ inability to see past the collective ends of their noses and focus on women’s health, is the fact that any discussion of women’s health tends to get hijacked by people waving signs and screaming about dead babies. 

Despite the importance of abortion to women’s healthcare, it is not the end-all-be-all in reproductive health or reproductive rights. 

Women across Texas face almost as many obstacles accessing contraception as they do trying to access abortion. Those difficulties become exponentially more pronounced for women in lower-income and rural communities.  

Texas has 147 counties without an OB-GYN, 158 counties without a surgeon and 35 counties without any doctor. The non-profit  Power to Decide has termed the large swats of the state without reproductive healthcare “contraceptive deserts

Below is a Power to Decide graphic detailing the needs in Texas. 

The distance, time and costs associated with traveling hundreds of miles to a doctor are forcing some women to go without care.  Although lawmakers have tried to fix the problem — mostly by paying lip service to Texas’ maternal mortality rate — all attempts to improve women’s healthcare have suffered ignominious deaths beneath the Capitol’s Pink Dome. 

Although Texas legislators ignored the key finding of the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force and refused to expand Medicaid, the state has made a cold comfort offering by launching a  newly redesigned healthytexaswomen.org

The website allows certain Texas women to sign up for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services’ Medicaid-lite plan, which might provide them with some form of coverage. To qualify for the Healthy Texas Women plan a woman has to be 18-44 years old, not pregnant, uninsured a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant making less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. 

That means that a single woman needs to make less than $2,010 per month to qualify. Additionally, the clinics aren’t evenly distributed throughout the state. If a woman in Cross Plains needs to use the Healthy Texas Women program for breast or cervical cancer services, she’ll wind up driving 50 miles on one way to Abilene or Commanche. 

Despite the best efforts of Texas’ DHHS, women women in Texas are not getting access to the birth control they want or are being told conflicting data. In 2018, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that about two-thirds of “low income” women’s requests for their preferred form of contraception were ignored by doctors. 

The study looked at how 685 new mothers were treated during their first post-partum doctors’ visit, typically referred to as the six-week checkup. Because of the doctors’ refusal to provide women their preferred form of contraception, around 58 percent left the office with no birth control at all and only 8 percent took what the doctors offered.

The authors found that intrauterine devices, IUDs, and contraceptive implants were the most difficult to get, with only 10 percent of the low-income women that requested the devices receiving them. 

It’s not just low-income women who aren’t able to get their preferred form of birth control. A recent study in the Journal of American College Health found that about 38 percent of women attending Texas community colleges regularly can’t get their preferred form of birth control. 

A similar study from UT-Austin’s Population Research Center found that Texas students are citing financial barriers and a lack of affordable insurance as reasons why they can’t access their preferred form of birth control. 
 “We — as in colleges [and] clinics — could be doing a better job in helping women to get the more effective methods they want to be using,” Kristine Hopkins, the lead author of the UT report, said.

HD-28: Six Republicans, one Dem on Nov. ballot

The filing deadline to run in the Texas House District 28 special election was yesterday at 5 p.m. The election will be held Nov. 5. And voters will head to the polls to elect a replacement for retiring State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond). 

Zerwas has represented District 28, which stretches from Katy to Rosenberg and from Simonton to Houston, since 2006. For the last two sessions, Zerwas has served as the chair of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. 

Although Zerwas announced his retirement from public office on July 31, it won’t take effect until Sept. 30. Zerwas, an anesthesiologist, will join the University of Texas system as an executive vice chancellor for health affairs. 

Zerwas’ appointment is effective Oct. 1, when he replaces Ray Greenberg, who stepped down in March. During the most recent fiscal year, Greenberg received a $720,000 per year salary, according to a UT system accountability report. 

Seven candidates have filed to run for the office, six Republicans and one Democrat, Eliz Markowitz. Because it is a blanket election, e.g. one without a primary, all seven candidates will appear on the ballot together. 

Markowitz is a resident of the Katy area and holds multiple degrees. She has a Ph.D. in education, two master’s degrees in science and a bachelor’s degree in computer science.   

While pursuing her degrees, Markowitz also worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, initially working in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality before transferring to the Office of the National Coordinator: Health Information Technology’s office. 

Markowitz went on to receive her Ph. D. in education from the University of Houston. She currently works at the Princeton Review as a teacher, corporate trainer, content developer, and author.

Education is a central plank in Markowitz’s platform. She supports replacing the STAAR test with alternative performance measures and encourages the expansion of vocational training. 

On the Republican side is Gary Gates, who owns multiple low-income apartment complexes throughout Houston. Gates has lost seven previous campaigns for office. 

Gates’ most recent defeat was in a race for the Texas Railroad Commission. The 2016 campaign was particularly brutal, with Gates facing allegations of abusing his foster children in the early 2000s and willfully neglecting the crime at his properties. 

Gates’ opponent, Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian, called Gates “a slumlord.” 

Joining Gates on the ballot is Tricia Krenek, a former Fulshear city councilwoman. Krenek served on the council from 2014-18. She then ran a losing campaign for judge of Fort Bend County’s County Court at Law 3. 

Along Gates and Krenek, Gary J. Hale has filed. Hale is a nonresident fellow at the Baker Institute. He previously served as chief of intelligence for the DEA’s Houston field office.  Hale has yet to create a campaign website or release a platform so it’s difficult to determine where he stands on the issues. 

Another Republican running is Sarah Laningham, who is a salesperson who lives in Richmond and is running as a staunch social conservative. Her platform is strongly anti-abortion and pro-gun. Laningham has also said she wants to “protect churches” and secure the border. 

Also on the ballot is Clinton Purnell, a long-time Fort Bend County resident. Purnell, a logistics specialist, has never held elected office before and has no campaign website.

Rounding out the ballot is Anna Allred, an anesthesiologist, and Zerwas’ business partner. Allread has also donated heavily to Zerwas’ previous campaigns and has contributed to medical and anesthesiologist lobbying groups. 

Since early voting starts on Oct. 21, the candidates will have just seven weeks to impress the voters. If no one emerges with more than 50 percent of the vote, the two candidates receiving the largest number of votes will go to a runoff, regardless of their political party.