Governor Greg Abbott last week signed the so called fetal heartbeat bill into law in Texas. The bill outlaws abortion the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected. That is often around the six-week mark and before many women even know they are pregnant.
In signing the bill, Abbott once again injected religion, his own, into a political and governance issue: “Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion.” The Governor added, “In Texas, we work to save those lives. That’s exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session.”
In a tweet the Governor added, “In Texas, we will always lead the way to protect the unborn.”
This story has been covered in a multitude of media outlets. So here we won’t review the merits of the bill, but instead will examine what I see as a related issue. Abbott talks about a child’s “right to life,” and says Texas will lead the way in working “to save those lives.” A fair question, however, is what about the rights and lives of kids once they are born in Texas?
As has been noted before, Texas leads the nation in the number of uninsured residents. In October of last year the Texas Medical Association, the Dallas News and the Houston Chronicle all reported on the findings of a Georgetown University Health Policy Institute study on the number of uninsured children in the United States. For instance, citing the study in an October 2020 report, the Dallas News wrote, “Over the past three years, the number of uninsured children under 19 in the state (of Texas) has increased by 32.3%, to nearly 1 million.”
Of course Texas kids without insurance are concentrated in lower income families. Yet Abbott and the Republicans controlling the Texas Legislature steadfastly refuse to accept expansion of Medicaid which would insure a lot of these kids — and give them something every kid needs, medical care as they grow up. In contrast, the fetal heart beat bill applies to Texans of all economic classes. To summarize, in Texas everyone has the right to be born, and Governor Greg Abbott will do everything in his power to protect that right. Once a child is born, however, that kid’s right to health care depends on whether she or he is lucky enough to be born into a family that can afford medical insurance.
One could also ask about the respect Abbott and other Texas leaders have for people who have grown out of childhood. Well, as the Houston Chronicle noted in a September 2020 report, Texas boasts “both the highest rate and number of uninsured residents among states — with 1.4 million uninsured people, or 19.7 percent of residents, without health coverage. Approximately 5.2 million Texans were uninsured last year (2019), or about 18.4 percent of the state’s population.” The Chronicle adds, “That’s double the national average of 9.2 percent,” and also “more than 4 percentage points higher than the next highest state, Oklahoma, at 14.3 percent.”
These numbers only go through 2019 and thus the Chronicle adds, “Doctors and health policy experts worry that the already sky-high numbers have only soared higher as hundreds of thousands of Texans lose both jobs and employer-based coverage during the pandemic-driven recession.”
The Service Based Economy
A big part of the problem is that much of the Texas economy, and the national economy, is built around a service industry model. That almost invariably means that workers get paid very low wages, often not enough to adequately support a family (or an individual) from a forty hour per week job. Many of these jobs also fail to provide medical insurance for their employees, and when they do it is often very inadequate insurance.
The service industry economic model is a national problem. States, however, play a major role and Abbott and Texas Republicans have done nothing to try to make that model more equitable in Texas. For instance they refuse to raise the minimum wage as a number of other states have. And, Texas leaders have for years referred to Texas’ economic system as “the Texas Miracle.”
As part of federal coronavirus packages, even one signed by Donald Trump, some service industry workers were making an additional $300 per week more in unemployment benefits, sometimes allowing them to earn more on unemployment than they would have made at their jobs. Republicans saw this as an incentive for workers not to go back to work. Several national media outlets reported, however, that people were using the extra time, and flexibility, made possible by the money to look for jobs that paid better, and some were finding them. That is a big reason restaurants are having difficulty getting people to come back to work.
That’s too much nuance though for Governor Abbott who eliminated the additional benefits on May 17, saying in a letter to US Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, “The amount of job openings in Texas is far greater than the number of Texans looking for employment, making these unemployment benefits no longer necessary.”
Then there’s the right to not get shot in a mass shooting, just joking that right doesn’t exist. As the Statesman reported in a late February story from their parent company flagship, USA Today, “Mass shootings in Texas increased to 34 in 2020 from 30 the year before, while nationally mass shootings jumped nearly 50% during a pandemic with crippling unemployment, violent protests and idle youth.” There have also been many accidental shootings and shootings of kids, sometimes by other kids. Nonetheless, Abbott and Republicans in the Texas Legislature are using the current legislative session to further ease gun laws.
So, remember Texas kids, and grownups too: Governor Greg Abbott strongly supported your right be born. But, now that you’re out of the womb, don’t be bothering him with any of your problems.
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