Texas Observer: Closing Accounts

Love is hard. And it’s even harder when you’re caring for a dying family member, especially your mother. Here’s an essay I wrote for the Texas Observer about end-of-life care and my grandmother’s life (and death).

Betty with daughter, Karen, husband, Jerry, and son, Jerry.

She’s naked from the waist up when we enter the room.

The sheet on her twin-size bed has slipped from the curve of her slight shoulders down to the small of her back—quietly hinting at the soft round flesh just visible beneath the cheap white bedding. She’s curled up in the fetal position, facing the wall. The bare skin of her back is taut and creamy, seemingly youthful despite its age.

I remember this moment only now, months later. At the time, I was distracted by the stench of urine, sour milk and a colostomy bag that desperately needed changing. My grandmother lay there, somewhere between unconsciousness and the painful reality of being awake. Her forefinger was curled up in the cord residents pull when they need a nurse. The tip of her finger was blue, but her fingernail was covered in a dingy brown film—so dirty that I reconsidered hugging her hello. Hovering at her bedside, I wondered how many days of accumulated filth it would take to turn my fingernail that color. The finger moved, slightly, rhythmically. She didn’t speak to us; we couldn’t help her. Instead, she intermittently mumbled what had become her mantra: “God, please help me. Help me please.”

A nurse’s aide from Green Valley Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center came into the room and helped get my grandmother out of bed and into a nightgown. It was lunchtime. My mother and I had brought her favorite meal, sparing no expense and withholding no calories: Grandy’s fried chicken with mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy, fried cherry pie and Sprite.

My mom cut up the chicken and biscuits and fed my grandmother baby bites with a plastic fork. I held the straw as she sipped the Sprite. Crumbs and wayward chicken scraps slipped from feeble lips down into her lap, making grease stains on the blanket she always needed to warm her tiny legs.

The scene reminded me of feeding my daughter, Amelia, who was then just 2. Food always covered her chubby cheeks and dribbled gently onto her bib, the floor, and usually—somehow—found its way onto my shirt or into my hair. I took care of Amelia the same way my mom was now taking care of her mother. But while Amelia was getting stronger, more independent and more beautiful by the day, my grandmother, now 91, was fading away.

Love is not always pretty. For my mom, it was sad, depressing and, at times, disgusting. But love was always present: in every touch, in every decision, and in every forkful of fried chicken she fed to my grandmother.

This had been my mother’s life for the better part of three years, and it was taking a toll.

Keep reading here.

Fort Worth Weekly: The Bare Minimum

Texas lives off low-wage workers but does little to help them escape poverty.

Marion Patton makes $9 an hour working at Braum's in Fort Worth. She's waiting (and hoping) to get full-time work at the ice cream and burger joint. Photo by Jordan Ricaurte.

Marion Patton makes $9 an hour working at Braum’s in Fort Worth. She’s waiting (and hoping) to get full-time work at the ice cream and burger joint. Photo by Jordan Ricaurte.

Her eyes are aquamarine, piercing but kind. Like the color of the sea before it washes up onto the beach. Those eyes have seen homelessness, heartache, and the daily needs of three little people who call her Mommy.

She wishes her toes were squishing the cool white sand like they did so many times before she left Pensacola, Fla.

Michelle Schmelzle relocated to Texas with her children and boyfriend last March, not knowing a soul in the state. When her boyfriend left her shortly after the move, she knew she had to “do it alone.”

Schmelzle spent six months at Presbyterian Night Shelter near downtown with her kids before she was able to get a job waiting tables at Denny’s.

Today, we’re sitting at a booth inside the restaurant after her shift (8 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week). She got off early, and the restaurant is almost empty. I ask for a glass of tea and immediately feel guilty. She’s worked hard enough already.

Schmelzle, 32, makes about $950 a month. That’s with tips and the $2.13 hourly wage for tipped employees. The tipped employee wage, according to federal law, must equal at least $7.25 an hour when tips and $2.13 are combined.

But that income isn’t nearly enough to pay for her unsubsidized apartment or for licensed childcare for her 4-year-old son. Luckily, her other two children, ages 13 and 8, are already in school.

She couldn’t qualify for the county’s childcare assistance program, Child Care Management Services, until she got a job. But she couldn’t work until she had someone to watch her kids. And even with her Denny’s position, she will never make enough to be self-sufficient. It’s the kind of vicious cycle that keeps minimum-wage workers perpetually on the financial edge.

******

Low-wage workers across the country — particularly women — face these problems every day. But in Texas, there’s no end in sight.

The Power of True Love.

When I went to Natasha Elkins’ funeral in November, I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t my first funeral. But it was the first funeral I’d attended of such a young, vibrant woman who had known she was going to die for the better part of a decade. The doctors gave her five years to live after her diagnosis at 23. She lived twice as long. And I think love, true love, the kind you read about in fairy tales and imagine when you’re a starry-eyed teenager, gave her the power to survive longer than anyone expected.

Natasha’s life inspired me to embrace mine. And never give up on the one thing that can save us and make us truly happy.

Read the story 360 West February: In Sickness and in Health.

Fort Worth Weekly: Rising Up

Arletta Grant with granddaughter.

Arletta Grant with granddaughter.

After four months of research and getting to know the brave women featured in this story, “Rising Up” reveals that most prostitutes are victims of sex trafficking and nearly all prostitutes experienced sexual abuse as children. In the U.S., prostitutes are considered victims of sex trafficking until their eighteenth birthday. Then, they become criminals.


Arletta Grant doesn’t remember a lot about that time in her life. “I blocked it out,” she said.

But some things she can’t forget: “At nighttime, he would make me come into his room.”

“He” was an older male cousin who lived with her family in south Fort Worth. The physical and sexual abuse started when she was 11 and didn’t stop until Grant ran away at 13. After that, Grant’s family gave up custody to the state because they thought they couldn’t handle her. She spent the rest of her childhood in a rotating series of foster homes.

“That’s when I really started giving it [sex] away like it was candy,” Grant said. “I was just looking for love, looking for somebody to want me, looking for closeness. I was having sex with whoever. Since I was molested, that was the only way I could feel close to somebody.”

The year she turned 18 was a milestone for Grant. She became an adult, and she became an addict, hooked on heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.

She also started going to clubs and having sex with men for money. And that meant that her legal status changed in another way: Officially, she stopped being a victim and became a criminal.

In the eyes of most police and the general public in this country, that second category is where most prostitutes belong. Few police departments make a habit of arresting the customers of prostitutes, though they too are breaking the law. Few intervention programs exist to help prostitutes break out of that lifestyle.

But across Tarrant County, people in several walks of life — researchers, some law enforcement officers, social workers, a district judge — see a different pattern, a different reality that they are trying to share with lawmakers, law enforcement, users of prostitution, and prostitutes themselves.

They see prostitutes, by and large, as victims of sexual abuse and sexual trafficking — crimes committedagainst the women both as children and adults.

Dr. Tomi Grover is an adjunct professor at Dallas Baptist University and law enforcement trainer in human trafficking. She estimated that over 90 percent of prostitutes in this country were sexually abused as children.

Most prostitutes get into that business when they’re still minors — in many cases, before they even entered their teens, explained Dr. Vanessa Bouché, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Christian University, who specializes in human trafficking research. The average age of girls who are compelled into prostitution is 12 to 14.

“The same exact women who were victims … are now criminals,” Bouché said.

State District Judge Brent Carr said that about 500 women are convicted of prostitution each year in Tarrant County.

But accurate numbers are hard to find. By one estimate, only about a quarter of sex trafficking and prostitution cases are actually reported.

A Fort Worth law enforcement officer, who asked not to be named, said law enforcement statistics aren’t always reliable “because arrests aren’t always made.” But it’s also true, he said, that few city officials are interested in studying the extent of the problem.

“Why would a city manager want to do a study on prostitution? Why would you want to bring it to light?” he asked.

Melissa Ice believes sex trafficking is a pervasive problem in Fort Worth. She’s the director of The Net, a faith-based nonprofit that serves the city’s homeless population, low-income neighborhoods, and sexually exploited women.

There’s not enough money allocated to the issue in Fort Worth to accurately measure its prevalence and make people sit up and take notice, she said.

Carr is one of those who has taken note. For years he watched women pass through his court in an unending repetition of arrest, conviction, sentences that usually amount to time served, release, and return to the streets or shops to begin the cycle again.

In 2011 he convinced the county to start a rigorous two-year intervention program that includes housing, curfews, drug testing, required counseling, and regular returns to his court to report progress or regression. Two years later, a state grant helped the county expand the program significantly. It’s called RISE, for Reaching Independence through Successful Empowerment.

RISE is still a small, rigorous program that only a handful of women have thus far successfully completed. But he and others are convinced that in the long run it will save women while also saving the county money because fewer women end up in jail.

“Houston is the worst — the city is built on it [sex trafficking and prostitution]. But it happens a lot in Fort Worth,” said Dottie Laster, a U.S. Department of Justice human trafficking consultant and law enforcement trainer.

“They aren’t addressing the problem,” she said of Fort Worth. She believes police need to change the way they conduct prostitution investigations, to focus on the buyer instead of the seller.

But it’s also up to the community to demand more of its elected officials and take a stand against sexual exploitation, Laster said.  “It shouldn’t be cool to talk about ‘pimping’ and ‘boys will be boys’ going to strip clubs.”

Ice agreed. “People have to know what’s going on,” she said. “Prostitution is modern-day slavery.”

Read more here.

A Skull and a Bad Guy

Portion of bone removed from a skull at UNT Health Science for DNA testing. Image courtesy UNT Health Science Center.

Hey, “CSI” fans! Here’s my latest story for you from the Fort Worth Weekly: Dog finds skull in Austin field. DNA results from UNT Health Science Center prove it to be a Most Wanted fugitive.


When a 12-year-old Labrador retriever named Carly found a human skull near a large creek bed in southeast Austin on Sept. 8, the lower jaw was still attached. Part of a dried scalp filled with buzzed brown hair clung to the skull and part of the left ear. Time — compounded with wind, rain, and the scorching Texas sun — had turned the skull brown and yellow.

Its identity was a mystery. And the skull was missing its body.

But U.S. marshals had a hunch. Based on where the skull was found, the agency thought it could belong to a fugitive named Kevin Patrick Stoeser, who’d been on probation after serving time for sexual molestation of a child and possession of child pornography in Austin. And Stoeser was on the U.S. Marshals Service’s Top 15 Most Wanted list. So identifying the remains became a priority.

A small portion of the bone was cut out of the skull and sent to the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth for DNA analysis. All unidentified remains from Texas and most other states are sent to the center.

Health science center team members take DNA from remains and enter that and other information in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). The DNA profiles in NamUs can then be matched against those in another database — CODIS, run by the FBI — to see if there is a match.

And that’s exactly what happened with the skull Carly dropped in her owners’ front yard. The health science center team was able to pull a DNA profile from the bone in early November. In this case, there was a match in CODIS — the Combined DNA Index System — thanks to the Arlington Police Department.

In June 2002, Stoeser, then a soldier stationed at Fort Hood, was arrested in Arlington for sexual assault of a child. An officer collected DNA from the inside of Stoeser’s cheek with a cotton swab and entered the information in CODIS.

According to the U.S. Marshals Service, Stoeser had a long history of sexual violence, including possession of child pornography, rape, and sexual assault of five children. He pleaded guilty to the Arlington charges of child sexual assault and possession of child pornography and was sent to prison in Kansas, where he served most of a 13-year sentence before being released on probation in 2011.

Sent to a military halfway house in South Dakota, Stoeser ended up back in prison that same year for texting and e-mailing with underage girls, a probation violation. He served a few months, was released again on probation — and again got in trouble almost immediately.

That time he was sent to the Austin Transitional Center, a residential re-entry facility, because he wanted to live closer to his daughter.

Stoeser had been there only a few months when, according to U.S. Marshals Service public affairs deputy Hector Gomez, staffers at the Austin facility found him with a smartphone filled with images of underage kids, and he bolted out an emergency exit. He was 41. Nearby are the creeks and fields where, a year later, Carly is believed to have found the skull.

The health science center works more than 700 unidentified-remains cases each year. About 80 percent of those cases are skeletal remains, said Dixie Peters, technical leader for the missing persons unit within the Center for Human Identification at UNT.

Across the country, there are more than 40,000 cases involving unidentified bodies or skeletal remains. Nearly 10,000 of those cases are active in the NamUs database, making it the largest source of information on unidentified remains in the country. More than 1,000 of those cases are from Texas, including more than 100 added in the last year.

NamUs is a national database that helps match human remains with missing persons cases by keeping information on both. In 2003, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) created it to allow law enforcement officials and the general public to search through the information. Sometimes it’s the family of missing loved ones, rather than law enforcement, who solves the case, as in a story Fort Worth Weekly covered last year (“From the Land of the Lost,” July 24, 2013).

In 2010 UNT Health Science Center was awarded a grant from the NIJ to take over the management of NamUs, making it a “one-stop shop” for unidentified remains, said B.J. Spamer, director of the training and analysis division of NamUs. The center performs DNA testing, operates NamUs, and partners with the Institute for Forensic Anthropology at UNT’s main campus in Denton to provide insight into the sex, age, and causes of death. Two forensically trained dentists are part of the team, along with analysts who use sites like LexisNexis, Facebook, and Ancestry.com to search for clues to identify remains or possibly locate missing people who are still alive.

“We use the most advanced technology to get the short tandem repeats (STRs),” explained Spamer. STRs are a portion of nuclear DNA that’s passed down from both of an individual’s parents.

On all cases, the ID center processes both nuclear (STR) and mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the mother. All siblings from the same mother carry the same mitochondrial DNA.

STR testing is a big deal because “it’s really discriminating,” said Spamer — meaning that the likelihood of another person having that same DNA profile is basically zero.

Every crime lab in the country does STR analysis, Spamer said. But technicians can’t always get an STR profile from human remains because that type of DNA is found in the nuclei of cells and breaks down faster than mitochondrial DNA. A body that’s been exposed to the elements for an extended period of time might not have viable nuclear DNA.

In this case, Peters’ team was able to pull an STR profile from the skull, even though the remains were weathered. And that’s the type of DNA profile that was taken from Stoeser in 2002 and loaded into CODIS. Texas uses STR testing (rather than mitochondrial) when it pulls DNA samples from convicted offenders.

Only nine facilities in the U.S. can perform STR and mitochondrial DNA testing and upload those results into CODIS, Spamer said. UNT Health Science Center provides more DNA profiles on unidentified remains than any other lab in the country. Many private labs can do the DNA testing but don’t have access to CODIS, which is restricted to government-funded facilities.

A few days after Stoeser escaped on Oct. 24, 2013, Austin was hit by what came to be known locally as the “Halloween flood” of 2013. David Fugitt, a homicide detective with the Austin Police Department who worked the case of the recovered skull, believes Stoeser may have drowned in the high waters that killed several other people and ruined many homes.

Stoeser had been missing for more than six months when his case was featured on CNN’s “The Hunt” with host John Walsh, and a $25,000 bounty was offered for information leading to his arrest.

Then in June, the U.S. Marshals Service went back to scour the area again. This time, the search was cut short, Fugitt said, after one investigator was bitten by a rattlesnake and because of heavy rains.

In September, Carly brought home the skull, and the next day, 28 law enforcement officials and four cadaver dogs were back at it, wading through an open field and neighboring creek bed full of waist-high grass, searching for the rest of the missing body.

The team searched throughout the course of the day but found nothing. Law enforcement officials put a tracking device on Carly’s collar and let her roam free for a couple of days, hoping she would take investigators back to the place where she had found the skull. But the dog led them to no more grisly trophies.

Dr. Dana Austin, a forensic anthropologist with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, said that the instincts of dogs and coyotes to drag bones away to chew on them, combined with the natural decomposition process, make it increasingly less likely that more of Stoeser’s remains will be found.

Carly still might represent the best hope of finding them. Owners Anthony and Bonnie Vin Klarek said the Labrador retriever gets a walk every day through the area where they think she found the skull, and at night she often jumps the fence to forage on her own.

The dog has never brought back another bone, Bonnie said, but a week after finding the skull, “she came back home with a kid’s baseball glove.”

From the Land of the Lost

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 10.41.06 PMNo, real forensic science isn’t like CSI, but it’s still pretty damn cool. And in Fort Worth, scientists are hard at work matching DNA to skeletal remains in order to put names to the thousands of missing person cases in the United States.

Here’s my story from the Fort Worth Weekly:
The sisters were hungry. They had been doing housework and were ready for a break. So they got in the car and drove to Godfather’s Pizza — one of their favorite restaurants in their hometown of Kansas City, Mo. They sat down at a booth, ordered The Supreme, and talked about the Bon Jovi concert they were planning to see. Paula Davis, 21, was planning to buy tickets the next day. Stephanie Clack, 14, was excited to be hanging out with her cool older sister.

Stephanie remembers the Bon Jovi song Paula played on the jukebox and the aroma of fresh-baked pizza. It was August 1987, and Paula’s olive skin had tanned from the warm summer sun. Curly brown hair framed her heart-shaped face.

After dinner, Paula dropped her sister off at their parents’ house. It was the last time Stephanie would see her sister alive.

The family knew almost immediately that something was wrong. “We got a call from Paula’s roommate saying that something had happened because Paula never came home that night,” Stephanie said.

One day later, a couple of teenagers driving down an Ohio road thought they saw a dead body lying in the dirt. They called the cops. Englewood police officers found a young woman’s body, nude from the waist up, dumped near an entrance ramp to I-70, 587 miles and a nine-hour drive from Kansas City.

A coroner estimated that the young woman had been dead only about 14 hours. But it would take 22 years before the body was identified as that of Paula Davis. Even then, it only happened because of a sister’s persistence, a rose and a unicorn, and the help of a national database now maintained in Fort Worth by the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

********

Stephanie graduated from high school, got married, had five children, and moved to Independence, Mo. But wherever she was, she kept up the search for her sister. She had little hope that Paula was alive.

Continue reading here.

SNAP Judgements: Living on Food Stamps

English: Logo of the .

English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last two years have been a blur. Days have run into months and before I knew it, a year had passed. Three months after I had my daughter, my husband lost his job. And we lost the security of our middle-class life.

For six months, we qualified for food stamps. And we used every last penny that the government so kindly granted us. What I thought about being poor, about the federal food stamp program, and about social services like food stamps and WIC dramatically changed. Because I was no longer an outsider looking in. I was an insider, wishing to get out.

I debated even publishing this post or writing the story about my experience for the Texas Observer. But over time, pride fades. And perhaps, my story will make another woman in my place know that it’s all going to be okay.

Here’s my story published in the Texas Observer:

I’m a snotty 16-year-old with a crush on Reed, the dark-haired, fair-skinned dreamboat who bags groceries in my line (when I’m lucky). My feet hurt from standing at a Winn Dixie cash register all day.

Weigh the bananas. Type in produce code 4011. Take bananas off scale.

“Have a nice day,” I say, sincerely insincere.

A heavyset mother of about 25 trailing a rowdy brood of kids steps forward and hands me a sheet of paper with a government logo across the top.

WIC. I hate WIC.

WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a federal program, similar to food stamps, that provides assistance specifically to mothers, pregnant women and their young children, paying for essentials like baby food, formula, bread and milk. It also educates mothers on nutrition and the art of breastfeeding, which is much harder than it looks.

But for cashiers, filling out the forms and processing the paperwork takes forever, and I can’t seem to get it right. So my line gets longer. Customers get irritated. And my feet hurt.

Why can’t the government come up with a better way to help people without making my life miserable?

Two thousand dollars a month. That’s the income cap to qualify for food stamps in Texas. Two thousand dollars a month for a family of three.

My parents were teachers, no big paychecks or buyouts, but they were smart with their money and paid for everything with cash. I don’t think they started using credit cards until I was an adult. They instilled their zero-debt policy in me as well, and the Discover card my mother put in my name when I graduated from high school still gets paid off every month.

We’re standing in line at Target. My husband pays for our groceries while I coo and cuddle my baby girl, who’s gazing up at me from her expensive car seat in the front of the cart. My husband takes a white card out of his wallet, slides it through the machine, enters his 4-digit PIN, and looks down. The receipt prints. Niceties are exchanged. Plastic bags are gathered. I doubt the overworked cashier even notices we’re not paying with credit.

Last April we joined the 46 million Americans living on food stamps, more accurately known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Four million of those people are Texans. The federally funded program provides food assistance to people who earn less than $24,000 a year for a family of three.

Continue…

Losing Babies: Fort Worth Leads the State in Infant Mortality

As a new mother, I was immensely saddened and attracted to this subject simultaneously. Why does Fort Worth (my hometown) have such a high rate of infant mortality? I found some answers. And more questions. But if one baby is saved because of this story, it was worth every word.

Read the beginning of my story here, published in March by the Fort Worth Weekly:

My baby kicked and moved until the day he died,” said Jodie Kennedy.

She thought everything was fine. It was her second pregnancy. But her amniotic fluid was leaking, making her feel weak and dizzy all the time. She didn’t know that what was happening was out of the ordinary, and she didn’t have a doctor to tell her it was.

It was 2007, and Jodie had just relocated to Fort Worth from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The young mother didn’t have money for a doctor and didn’t know how to apply for Medicaid. So when she was four months pregnant, her son died.

“Oh … it hurts,” she said. “I could have saved my son’s life.”

If Jodie, 29, had gotten medical care early in her pregnancy, a doctor would have seen that her cervix was too weak to carry the weight of the developing child and could have given her injections to prevent premature labor. She knows that now because she delivered a healthy baby girl last summer. This time, with help from a federally funded program operated by a local charity, she went to the doctor right away and got the care she needed to carry the baby to term.

“If I knew what I know now … my son would be here,” Jodie said. “Knowledge is power. It can save somebody’s life, especially when it comes to a baby.”

These days, health officials and charity providers in Tarrant County are trying to turn some sad knowledge into power to help save the lives of more babies in North Texas. According to the most recent statistics available, Fort Worth has the highest infant mortality rate in the state, meaning that a higher percentage of babies here die before their first birthday than in any other major city in Texas. But it’s not just Fort Worth — the North Texas region in general leads the state in infant mortality as well.

Kennedy, with baby Kamryn: “Knowledge is power. It can save somebody’s life.”

Kennedy, with baby Kamryn: “Knowledge is power. It can save somebody’s life.”

Fort Worth, Arlington, and Dallas had the highest infant mortality rates of Texas’ large cities: Fort Worth had 9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 8.2 in Arlington and 7.5 in Dallas.

The problem also seems to be getting worse. In January, the Tarrant County Public Health agency released its most comprehensive report to date on infant mortality. It showed that the number of infant deaths in both Fort Worth and Arlington increased in 2010, even though the total number of babies born decreased during that year.

The causes of infant mortality are complicated, and none of the health officials contacted by Fort Worth Weekly would hazard a guess as to why North Texas cities seem to be so dangerous to the health of fetuses and newborns.

“If I knew the answer to that I would fix it,” said Ann Salyer-Caldwell, associate director of community health promotion at Tarrant County Public Health. Many factors add to the picture of infant mortality, she said, “and we have to dig deep to find all the issues that are affecting it.”

Some of the conditions that lead to infant deaths here carry out the same theme as elsewhere in the state: A mother’s long-term lifestyle affects her chances of having a healthy baby — infant mortality rates are higher for obese women, for instance. Mortality rates also tend to vary by race.

But at least one key factor here seems clear: Tarrant County has the worst percentage in the state of pregnant mothers receiving prenatal care. Premature babies are more likely to die shortly after birth than full-term babies. Moms with sexually transmitted infections are more likely to lose their babies. Both those factors trace back to a lack of medical care during pregnancy.

And the medical care picture for women, particularly poor women, isn’t getting any better in Texas. The legislature has drastically cut state funding for family planning and women’s healthcare in recent years, leading to clinic shutdowns across Texas, including one in Arlington.

When the state’s ban on funding for Planned Parenthood clinics led the federal government to end its women’s health program in Texas, state officials organized what they said was a replacement program. But that program has been criticized in Tarrant County and elsewhere for providing a much lower level of accessible care than in the past. And local health officials said Texas rules make it difficult for poor pregnant women to qualify for Medicaid.

“The painful truth is, many women are going without preventive healthcare that could save lives,” said Danielle Wells, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

Continue…

Hey, Gloria Steinem.

English: American feminist Gloria Steinem at B...

English: American feminist Gloria Steinem at Brighton High School, Brighton, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got the chance to interview Gloria Steinem (a.k.a. feminist leader of the free world!). Here’s the story, posted by Fort Worth Weekly:

Fort Worth Weekly got the opportunity on Thursday to talk with longtime feminist leader Gloria Steinem about gender issues, equality, and women’s healthcare in Texas.

Steinem, in her late 70s, is the guest speaker this week at Planned Parenthood’s annual fundraising luncheon in Fort Worth. She’s a co-founder of Ms. Magazine and a globally recognized expert and activist on women’s issues. Steinem also co-founded Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political action committee. She’s been a longtime supporter of Planned Parenthood, which got kicked out of the new Texas Women’s Health Program (WHP) earlier this year because Texas lawmakers approved a measure banning any organization that provides abortions from taking part. Planned Parenthood clinics in the past have been the largest provider of medical care under that program, giving women in many parts of the state access they otherwise would not have had to cancer screenings, birth control.

FWW: How does access or lack of access to healthcare affect equality for women?

Steinem: “All basic freedoms revolve around productive freedoms for women.” She said that if you can’t decide when and whether to have children, your ability to make other choices in life is greatly limited. A woman “must be able to decide the size of the family. It’s very important that every child born be loved and wanted.”

Lack of healthcare for women also has a deep affect on families, since women in most cases are the primary caregivers, she said.

FWW: In what way does the new Women’s Health Program affect young girls?

Steinem: “In states that have been afflicted by ignorance on sexual education [like Texas], girls must feel empowered to take care of their own bodies … must be able to understand sexuality. In this country, we have had several administrations promoting ignorance; Texas has many of those voices, like [Gov.] Rick Perry.”

FWW: What is Planned Parenthood’s role in Texas’ healthcare program?

Steinem: “All over the country, Planned Parenthood is the source of primary healthcare for women. It’s the reason why Planned Parenthood is one of the most trusted organizations in the country. And one in five women have turned to Planned Parenthood. … I don’t know any [other] state where the governor has been at war with Planned Parenthood.” She said that quality healthcare is less available in the United States than in most developed countries, which makes low-cost access to quality care even more important.

According to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, its clinics charge women around $100 for a well woman exam, excluding lab fees. That same exam from a private doctor’s office costs around $300.

 

Financial/Health

A shop window advertising payday loans.

A shop window advertising payday loans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do payday lenders and poor health have in common? A lot according to faith-based groups in Texas. Read my latest story about it here.

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