The attorney general of Texas is threatening abortion providers with 180-day jail sentences in a cowardly attempt to use Gov. Greg Abbott’s “executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures,” which is meant to free up hospital beds amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick took President Trump’s demand to return to business as usual (with the emphasis on business) and ran with it to a truly bizarre place, where any patriotic American grandparent should be willing—nay, eager!—to die of COVID-19 “in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren.”
What is this America? One where people are forced to carry to term unwanted pregnancies as their parents and grandparents die in the name of allowing the perversion of capitalism that we live under to continue unfettered?
Patrick played humble, telling the grandparents watching that he doesn’t think he’s being “noble or brave,” as a passive aggressive little challenge: Do you want to be noble and brave? Do you love your grandkids? Buy things! Go outside! Take your chances with getting infected, or infecting others, for the kids.
It’s a dangerous, nefarious lie.
Patrick also refers to himself as a “small businessman,” and it’s unclear if that’s a reference to the the chain of sports bars he owned before the end of the oil boom damaged Houston’s economy, causing him to declare personal bankruptcy and somehow, rather than gaining insight and empathy into how hard it is to be poor in America, decide to become a conservative talk radio host with a brand based on hating immigrants. It’s probably a reference to the way he’s painted himself as a politician, using the euphemism of “small business” to obscure the truth, which is that he is advocating for continuing to have a government that panders to people with money and scorns people who need government services.
It’s a short-sighted form of self-interest, the guiding principle that capitalists keep telling me would make us all able to thrive under capitalism, if we just acted in our own self-interest. The truth is that the type of capitalism that people like Patrick want us to live under requires that most of us don’t act in our own self-interest. It would be in our self-interest to stay home, to not panic-buy things we don’t need, to demand a government that suspends rent payments and that provides health care. Fundamentally, a government that recognizes that its purpose is to be a safety net—to raise the floor to lessen how far any of us can fall.
It’s a wild twist from a member of the political party that effectively stopped their opponents’ attempts to provide health care to all Americans, regardless of resources, by claiming that to do so would initiate “death panels.” Apparently, death panels are OK when they preserve wealth. Now, Republicans say, we’re morally obligated to kill the elderly—but wait! We also have to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
That Republicans are gallingly comfortable exhibiting hypocrisy is not new, and that can lull us into dismissing it when we see it. But that’s how bad politics get a pass. And it’s important to consider the ramifications of Paxton’s order, which apparently allows for abortions that are medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. That’s an arbitrary condition that tends to inherently demean mental health—rarely do politicians who are attempting to ban abortion seem to be willing to make an exception for an unwanted pregnancy that would cause a woman depression, anxiety, or another form of mental illness that would likely impact the baby they’re forcing her to carry to term.
Never mind that the United States has the worst maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations, and is ranked 55th among all countries—ahead of Ukraine and behind Russia, as many news outlets noted last month, after our own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released our nation’s first report on maternal mortality since 2007, when the U.S. stopped issuing reports because experts felt we weren’t doing a very good job of tracking the deaths, so the data wasn’t even accurate. The report concluded that “most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable,” meaning the flaw is in our health care system. And yet Republicans would deny that there is a gross inequality in the mandate that people who can get pregnant must put their lives on the line for an unavoidable unintended consequence of an activity that as humans, we are compelled to do: have sex.
Perhaps that’s the reality here that these folks are comfortable with: demanding that a certain portion of the population be martyrs. I wonder how elderly Fox News viewers feel knowing that the Republican Party is now asking them to get in line with people who can get pregnant, as well the poor and the disabled, to join the ranks of demographics whom Republicans deem expendable.
The mandate to give birth at all costs is doubly outrageous when you consider Patrick’s exhortation that those at risk should carry on as usual—a high fever can be treacherous in a pregnancy. Stress and anxiety can be deleterious to a pregnancy. It will be hard enough for women who want their pregnancies to carry them to term in the midst of this crisis.
Texas is following Ohio’s lead on this; it remains to be seen if Republicans in other GOP-controlled states will be shamelessly craven enough to try to use this very real health and economic crisis to pander to some and endanger the safety, well-being, and basic autonomy of others. I can sympathize with people who feel compelled to protect babies. I would like to see us make this country livable for all the babies who are wanted, and all of the people currently in it, and put significant resources to making our health care system safer, more patient-driven and less profit-driven, first. Fund scientific research that might make childbirth safer, might make it so that acting on mutually shared and natural sexual desires is not a high risk consequence of being a human animal. Imagine how different our current situation might be if our medical research budget was anywhere near the size of our defense budget, or the campaign war chests of our bought-and-paid-for politicians.
Our health care system was in crisis before this pandemic. To use our current state of crisis to deny services and cause people more anxiety and heartache should be criminal. Unfortunately, in America in 2020, it’s just politics as usual.