In a new study, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) interviewed a number of women whose access to abortion care was severely impeded as a result of Texas' anti-choice law, HB 2. In spite of mounting evidence that lack of access to safe and legal abortion has dire consequences, conservative media have insisted that Texas' legislative restrictions are desirable and do not create an undue burden on women seeking care.
As explained by RH Reality Check Reporting Fellow Teddy Wilson, this latest study confirms the "disastrous effects that Texas' omnibus abortion law has had on women and families" through clinic closures and restricted access to services. By interviewing 23 women "who either had their abortion appointments cancelled when clinics closed or who sought care at closed clinics" following the passage of HB 2, TxPEP found that women's health care "was delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether" from obtaining an abortion, according to a news release about the study. Investigators noted that the subjects not only "reported a lack of information and confusion" in the wake of clinic closures, but also that once they had located an affordable provider, many "faced substantial added travel and hotel costs when seeking abortion services."
Despite stories like these, conservative media have waged a continued campaign of misinformation about the law, insisting that its restrictions are medically necessary and pose no substantial burden on women's access to care. When the HB 2 law was first passed in 2013, Fox News contributors Monica Crowley and Kirsten Powers denied the impact it would have on Texas women. Powers claimed that reproductive rights groups were exaggerating the impact the law would have on women's access to care, claiming: "I don't think that many clinics are going to close." Crowley agreed, adding that reproductive rights advocates always "try to go right to hyperbole -- that women are going to have to flee to Tijuana because they're not going to have access in Texas to abortion. It's all ridiculous."
TxPEP previously analyzed HB 2's effect on wait times at clinics and found that they appeared to increase in Dallas and Fort Worth, with waits so long that the existing clinics seemed unable to meet the total demand for services. An additional TxPEP study previously found that between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have attempted to self-induce an abortion, demonstrating how increased barriers to accessing abortion in Texas might put women at risk.
Dr. Daniel Grossman, a co-author in both TxPEP findings on HB 2's effects on patients, explained that the new study "demonstrates that the sudden closure of clinics created significant obstacles to obtain care, forcing some women to obtain abortion later than they wanted, which increases the risks and cost." He noted that those challenges caused some women "to continue with an unwanted pregnancy." Grossman added that if HB 2 remained in effect, the undue burden on women would grow, as "wait times to get an appointment will likely increase in most cities across the state, as they recently have in Dallas and Ft. Worth, because the 10 remaining facilities will not be able to meet the demand for services statewide."
RH Reality Check's Wilson summarized one of the many interviews in the study as an example of this experience:
Dr. Valerie Peterson, a single mother in her 30s residing in Austin, said that HB 2 had a direct impact on her when she needed to terminate a pregnancy. Doctors detected a possible fetal abnormality during the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy.
When Peterson was 16 weeks into her pregnancy, the fetus was diagnosed with holoprosencephaly (HPE), a brain development disorder. She said that the severity of the disorder left her with two options: carry the doomed pregnancy to term or terminate the pregnancy.
Peterson's doctor referred her to an abortion provider in Austin, but because of the demand she was unable to secure an appointment for three weeks. "Every day I had to remain pregnant was emotionally painful," Peterson said.
Even after she was able to secure an earlier appointment with another provider, the procedure would take four days to complete due to Texas law. It was then that she made the decision to seek the care she needed at a provider in Florida, despite the additional cost.
"I was ultimately able to access abortion in a timely manner," Peterson said. "However, HB 2 leaves many women without hope and without options." She said that she hopes the Supreme Court overturns the law, which she called "downright cruel."
As TxPEP's work shows, the predicted consequences of HB 2 were far from "ridiculous," as Fox News claimed. In particular, the impact of the law on lower-income women and women of color is disproportionate. Huffington Post senior legal reporter Laura Bassett warned that HB 2 would "end abortion access for low-income women in rural areas of the state, who are already having a hard time finding providers." These fears were confirmed in the interviews conducted by TxPEP, as many of the women emphasized "the challenges they faced" in trying to locate care, including poverty.
The Supreme Court will hear the case challenging Texas' HB 2, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, on March 2. NARAL explained in an editorial by President Ilyse Hogue and accompanying video that the stakes for women could not be higher:
This spring, the Supreme Court will be hearing a case that gets to the heart of what it means to have access to our rights. A positive outcome of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt will send the message that our reproductive rights can not be eroded. The court can stand up and say that state laws should not be used to keep women from accessing their right to reproductive care including abortion.
Conversely, the court could give a stamp of approval to the political efforts to dismantle reproductive rights until it is a right only in theory--inaccessible to millions of American women who live in certain zip codes or have lower incomes.
As the president of Whole Woman's Health commented to The Austin Chronicle: "This is the real world and these laws have real implications on real women's lives."
Watch NARAL's Roe v. Wade anniversary video:
The New York Times reported just 158 families have contributed more than half of all early money supporting the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, with 138 mostly supporting Republican candidates. RH Reality Check followed up on the Times' reporting to point out that two of these families are also top contributors to anti-choice causes and candidates.
Times reporters Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish wrote that, "Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision five years ago."
From the October 10 edition of the Times (emphasis added):
They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.
Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision five years ago.
Sharona Coutts of RH Reality Check examined the list of 158 families reported in The New York Times and wrote in RH Reality Check, "But what the report didn't mention was that the two families that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns also give prolifically to anti-choice groups and candidates."
From the October 13 RH Reality Check report (emphasis added):
But what the report didn't mention was that the two families that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns also give prolifically to anti-choice groups and candidates. This is consistent with a little-noticed trend on which RH Reality Check has been reporting for a while: the merging of political mega-donors with anti-choice activism. This fact is worth bearing in mind when listening to the anti-choice rhetoric being spouted by Republican presidential contenders.
At the top of the New York Times list is the Wilks family, the fracking barons who are cementing their place as arch-conservative mega-donors. According to the Times analysis, brothers Farris and Dan, and their spouses Jo Ann and Staci, have contributed a combined $15 million during this campaign so far in support of Ted Cruz's campaign.
As RH Reality Check has previously reported, the Wilkses are significant anti-choice donors, and have also plowed millions into a program that seeks to indoctrinate school children and university students with their right-wing views.
While the Times did mention the Wilkses' anti-choice stance in a list of donors that accompanied the main piece, it's worth noting the extent of those activities.
The Wilks family uses at least two foundations--the Thirteen Foundation and the Heavenly Father's Foundation--to funnel donations to dozens of right-wing organizations, including crisis pregnancy centers, anti-choice advocacy groups, and religious organizations that oppose the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
Second on the Times list are Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge fund manager, and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer. Also Cruz fans, the Mercers are reported to have given $11.3 million in campaign contributions so far.
Mercer is emerging as a conservative presence within the more traditionally liberal enclaves of New York City. Between 2005 and 2013, his foundation, the Mercer Family Foundation, contributed nearly $40.1 million to mostly conservative causes, including some prominent anti-choice groups, federal tax records show. Some of his giving has gone to neutral groups or causes, such as the Mayo Clinic or supporting ovarian cancer research. However, he gave $10.5 million to the anti-choice, right-wing Media Research Center between 2008 and 2013, as well as a quarter of a million dollars to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal group that takes on high-profile conservative cases.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney praised a misleading campaign video ad produced by a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina without mentioning that the ad contains deceptively-edited audio and video aimed at smearing Planned Parenthood and defending Fiorina's previous lies about the organization.
The three largest newspapers in Texas have so far failed to report on comments made by Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek over the past two months in which he claimed not to believe the official number of people without health insurance in Texas. Nearly two weeks after Republican Gov. Rick Perry officially notified the federal government that Texas would not be setting up a health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act to help people get insurance, readers of the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram remain in the dark about the out-of-touch comments from by the governor's social services czar, according to a Media Matters analysis.
In September and again in October, Janek discussed the problem of uninsured Texans at forums held by the Texas Tribune. During his first comments at the Texas Tribune Festival, Janek said he did not believe the Census Bureau's statistics describing the percentage of uninsured Texans -- which currently stands at 26.3 percent -- because according to him, the Census Bureau asked the wrong question.
In October, Janek re-framed his position telling the Texas Tribune during a one on one discussion with Texas Tribune founder Eric Smith that the Census Bureau asked "a question" instead of saying they asked the wrong question.
From a transcript of a video (at the 13:40 mark) posted by the Texas Tribune:
ERIC SMITH (TEXAS TRIBUNE): Let me ask you a broader question about the state of health policy in Texas and the uninsured. You know that the U.S. Census Bureau some six weeks ago put out a report that said that Texas now has 5.8 million uninsured citizens, 23 percent of our population, which makes us first among the states in the percentage of our citizens insured. You gave an interview to Emily Ramshaw of the Tribune at the Texas Tribune Festival in which you basically said I don't believe those statistics. This is the U.S. Census Bureau, not Public Policy Polling. It's a little hard to argue that the polls are skewed when the numbers are coming from the Census Bureau Dr. Janek, don't you think?
DR. KYLE JANEK (TEXAS HHSC): Umm, no their numbers are accurate for the question that they asked.
SMITH: So you think they asked the wrong question?
JANEK: No I don't, I think they asked a question.
SMITH: A question.
JANEK: Not the wrong question, it's a question. And here's the issue. If you go out now today and you go knock on doors as the Census Bureau does and do it by letter and say, "Do you have insurance," a lot of folks will say no, it doesn't mean they won't have insurance next week, it doesn't mean they will have insurance next week, it could be years before they have insurance again, it's a snapshot.
Later in the video Smith does push back on Janek's assertion that the Census Bureau had inaccurate data. However, these numbers shouldn't come as a surprise to new commissioner. As RH Reality Check points out, these numbers have remained consistent since 1987:
Janek must not be aware that for nearly 25 years, the Census Bureau's "snapshot" has shown practically the same thing: since 1987, Texas repeatedly has one of the highest, or the very highest, number of uninsured adults in the country. That rate has not been below 1987's 23 percent; it peaked at 26.8 percent in 2009 and is currently estimated at 26.2 percent.
As Texas Tribune pointed out in its first report pushing back on the comments, the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey -- which does ask if the respondent had health insurance within the last year -- still puts the uninsured rate at about a quarter of the population:
There's a flip side to his first argument: The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which asks whether respondents had health insurance at any point in the previous year, also puts Texas' rate of uninsured at about a quarter of the population. That survey is much smaller -- it has a national sample size of 100,000 addresses -- but is more detailed and conducted by more experienced staff.
"The suggestion that Texas would shoot to the top because of the way the question is asked -- I cannot think of any reason why anything would be different here," said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities. "The same conditions exist here that exist in the whole country, except we have more people uninsured, and we're spending billions of dollars in local property taxes" on hospital care.
While Texas Tribune pushed back on his comments, newspapers in Texas failed to hold the commissioner accountable. According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Nexis and the newspapers' websites, since his appointment at the end of July, none of the three Texas newspapers examined wrote about Janek's controversial comments, and only one gave him more than a passing mention. On November 11, almost a month and a half after Janek's initial comments, the Chronicle wrote a piece spotlighting Janek's health care strategies in Texas, and, in an almost laudatory tone, said his appointment "couldn't come at a better time for private hospitals."
From the Chronicle:
The appointment of Janek, a Houston physician, couldn't come at a better time for private hospitals like Memorial Hermann, Methodist and St. Luke's. He's an important ally at a time when the balance of power is shifting dramatically.
Janek recently sparred with Coleman at a public hearing of the House County Affairs Committee, which Coleman chairs. The Houston Democrat noted pointedly that health care districts - not the private hospitals - will put up tax dollars to win an estimated $29 billion in extra federal dollars.
The private hospitals, he complained, "are crying and hollering about someone else's money." He also objected to complaints from private business entities that are "aligned" politically with politicians who oppose government-funded health care.
This wasn't the first time the Chronicle has discussed Janek and failed to push back on his Census skepticism. After the second interview with the Texas Tribune, the Chronicle published a piece that included comments he made at the Tribune event, but the paper again failed to mention or dispute his assertions about the number of uninsured in Texas, instead discussing his opinion on Planned Parenthood's role in the new Texas Women's Health Program.
Despite not holding Janek accountable, the Chronicle has not shied away from discussing the uninsured in Texas. In August they dedicated an entire article to the Census Bureau findings -- the same one Janek claimed didn't provide the whole picture -- noting that Texas' overall percentage of uninsured residents was 26.3 percent. Earlier this month, the Chronicle again discussed the number of uninsured in Texas, writing that the state has the second-highest number of uninsured residents in the nation, but again failed to mention the health commissioner's unfounded skepticism.
While the facts go against Janek's assertion, the more troubling aspect is the failure of the major newspapers in Texas to hold the Commissioner of Health and Human Services accountable for his comments.