[Houston Chronicle, 9/23/21] Texas’s new abortion law has captured national headlines, but the sad fact is that, after years of chipping away, Texas was already tied for 47th nationally in women’s equality. Real change will mean not just ending this ban, but the attitudes behind it. Texans can use this moment to do more than stop the slide. Time to elect leaders who can envision a whole new trajectory and build a thriving economy of care.
Misogyny — a Greek word that means contempt for women — is an economic strategy as well as a feeling. Denial of women’s rights long ensured that they do much essential work for free and without representation. That includes bearing and rearing the next generation of workers. Currently, the economic model here is one of desperation, with misogyny as the linchpin. But having an economy that rewards rather than exploits care would generate both prosperity and well-being for all.
Quick overview of the shameful scene: Through gender and racial bias, Harris County full-time working women’s wages have long been through the floor, with white women making 70 cents on the dollar compared to white men in 2019, black women 45 cents and Hispanic women 37.5 cents. Part-time workers and those who are undocumented make even less. Texas ranks 50th in its percentage of uninsured adults (which is correlated with high maternal mortality among many other health shortfalls); the foster care system (where many unplanned children end up) is awful; and Texas ranks 43rd in educational investment per student. Forget adequate affordable child care to allow moms to work. Low taxes, low services — no surprise!
When businesses enjoy low tax rates, the government doesn’t adequately support children, or sick and elderly Texans. Unpaid or low-paid women — the default care infrastructure — bear the brunt of the cleanup work to fill the gaps, though they can only do a part of what’s needed. All this creates female poverty rates 44 percent higher than those of males, leaving women more vulnerable to domestic violence.
The relationship of the state to its female population is itself a form of domestic abuse. If Texas men don’t really dislike Texas women that much, it’s time to speak up, lads!
In spite of these realities, over the past 173 years American women have made gains — in status, education and economic independence. Those gains can partly be attributed to greater control over their own fertility. Notably, it was through a suit against a Texas case that Roe v. Wade improved the options of women across the nation. Ability to plan when and if to have children allows women to complete their schooling and move up in their careers — growing the workforce and the knowledge base. It lets them better support their kids when they have them and gives them civic voice.
This has much improved U.S. productivity as women buoy the GDP and spend their earnings. But some dislike the change. Allowing the so-called “Texas Taliban” to break that circuit of societal prosperity undermines the whole economy, while furthering the political ambitions of a few.
The abortion ban was only one among a slew of these kinds of bills. The 87th Legislature expanded gun access (more violence against women), reduced voter rights (cutting access to elect women) and persists in its anti-male-to-female transgender efforts (punishing people who choose to identify as women). With these the Legislature has carved a new rock bottom for misogyny, adding threats of suit to anyone who protests.
Will Texans fall for the bounty threats and stay silent, or will we stand up for Texas women? Is there hope for a different state?
Definitely. It’s because change is underway that these new clampdown laws have been enacted. But it won’t happen on its own. It will take strategy, pressure from all sides and a massive movement. The goal shouldn’t be a return to the old status quo: a Texas economy of care could lead the nation.
The biggest allies for change should be in the business world since this ban’s bad for the bottom line. So where are the employers decrying this law? When the courts enforced Roe v. Wade, many ostensibly “pro-women” businesses could avoid making a stand that offended the anti-choice leadership, and their largely elderly voter base. That abortion calculus has cratered, and employers must consider their workforce and their customers. Will working women stick around in Texas for random vigilante suits against whomever, topped off by bullying harassment at the polls? Will the business infrastructure survive if the courts, already backed up by COVID, are swamped by the $10,000 per suit bait?
Texas depends on streams of non-native workers, from states that invest more in education, to fill skilled jobs. In Harris County, 54 percent of workers with college degrees, under 40, born out of state are women. Given the darkening scene, many will leave, and fewer people will choose to relocate here. There are many good jobs elsewhere, in states with less misogyny, more functional electric grids and fewer hurricanes. Native Texans will also exit if the state they love won’t love them back.
And of course, there will be Texas boycotts. Nationally, per Gallup, 80 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal — either in all cases (32 percent), or with some restrictions (48 percent). But the new law disallows all abortions after the first six weeks, a period of time in which many women don’t even know they are pregnant, with no exceptions. This “concern” for fetuses is seconded by substandard care for the babies that result.
This unconstitutional misogyny will magnify poverty in a state that is already ranked the 12th poorest in America. Those unable to travel will be most affected, forced to find whatever work they can — in kitchens or brothels — to feed expanded families. But the evidence of women’s low status will cast a pall on everyone.
Cheap workers may be part of the goal of these policies, but the major aim of the ban seems to be drawing anti-abortion primary voters. This time, pro-choice voters will flock to the polls as well. If candidates run not just on ending the abortion ban but on uprooting the misogyny and building a robust care infrastructure, this moment can incite transformative change that will benefit all.
Texans — male and female, young and old, Democrat and Republican, workers and employers — who believe women should control their own fertility must speak out against the misogyny and its hugely negative ripple effects. Stand up for Texas women: Bans off our bodies! Silence would be the real crime here.