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August 13th, 2022:

More on polling about abortion

Not a new poll, but a closer look at the June UT/Texas Politics Project poll, with a longer look back at over a decade’s worth of polling data.

Under current Texas law, abortion is prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. But polling shows Texans overwhelmingly support exceptions for rape and incest — only 13% and 11%, respectively, said pregnant people should not be able to obtain abortions in those cases.

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, is not involved with the Texas Politics Project but has also conducted polling on abortion policy.

“More helpful polling questions are those that try to get to the nuance, rather than do you support or oppose this one option,” she said.

To that end, the latest Texas Politics Project poll asked registered voters to consider how far along in pregnancy a person should be allowed to obtain an abortion when accounting for different circumstances, including when the person’s health was endangered, the pregnancy was a result of rape or the family could not afford any more children. This is the first time pollsters asked these questions of respondents.

While most Texans support exceptions for rape and incest, some still want to see limitations based on how far along a person is in their pregnancy. Nearly a quarter of respondents want abortions in cases of rape or incest limited to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people do not know they are pregnant. Last September, 10 months before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Poll respondents supported more restrictions when asked about abortion in cases where the family is low income, or the pregnant person either doesn’t want to marry or is married and doesn’t want more children. Over 30% of voters said abortion should not be allowed in those cases.

These numbers are mostly consistent over time. The Texas Politics Project started polling registered voters about abortion availability in 2009. A historical look shows voters’ opinions on abortion have not changed much in over a decade.

One thing that has changed is people’s views on whether Texas’ existing laws about abortion should be made more strict, less strict, or left about the same. As Texas’ laws have gotten increasingly strict, the “abortion laws should be made less strict” group has grown from 26% in 2013 to 43% as of this June. The “more strict” group – one wonders what could possibly sate them, then one decides it probably isn’t worth asking that question – has gone from 38% to 23% in that same time span, while the “leave it as is” crowd has been basically static, from 20% to 23%.

It’s worth looking at the polling project’s post about their June numbers and scroll down to the section on abortion, where they asked questions about at what stage of a woman’s pregnancy would you support her being able to get an abortion under various circumstances. The choices for “when” are Never, up to 6 weeks, up to 12 weeks, up to 24 weeks, up to 36 weeks, and Any Time. The first four question are about circumstances where things are bad: The woman’s health in in danger, the woman was a victim of rape, the women was a victim of incest, and there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. In all of those cases, support for allowing an abortion is high, though a significant portion of that support is often for just the first six weeks, while the support for “Never” ranges from 8 to 19 percent. If you group the “through 12 weeks” responses with the increasingly liberal ones, all of those positions get a majority, ranging from 53 to 62 percent. “Never” and “up to 6 weeks” add up to at most 35% for those items.

That’s the good news. The less good news is that for questions about discretionary abortions – the woman’s family is poor and they can’t afford a child, the woman is unmarried and doesn’t want to get married, the woman is married and doesn’t want another child – the Never group is the biggest at 34 to 36 percent, with the Any Time group at half that level. There’s still more support for the “up to 12 weeks” and more liberal groups than Never (41 to 45%), but Never plus “up to 6 weeks” is a slight plurality in all three cases.

In other words, this all only goes so far. That may yet change over time – this is June data we’re talking about, we’re still figuring things out in this post-Dobbs world – but we’re a long way from the state being a basically pro-choice place. It’s more pro-choice than what the Legislature allows – much more so in some cases – but there are definite limits.

One more thing:

Jim Henson, director of the project, said that in the years the poll has been conducted, people haven’t had many reasons to shift their viewpoints on abortion.

“Abortion has been a present enough issue that I think most people who have an attitude on abortion have thought on it enough to be pretty fixed on their attitude,” he said.

[Joshua Blank, research director for the project notes that these attitudes were all developed under Roe v. Wade. Now that it’s overturned, people will be forced to ask themselves new questions about where exactly they stand on the issue of abortion.

“That was all under the framework of Roe v. Wade, which allowed people to develop attitudes,” he said. “The fact that there were clear guardrails around what was and was not allowable in terms of restrictions helped enforce the rigidity of peoples’ attitudes because there was a backstop either way about what the courts would presumably accept.”

[…]

The Hobby School of Public Affairs also recently polled registered Texas voters on abortion availability and policy. [Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School] said the polls focus on proposed laws after the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

“So rather than focusing primarily on ‘do you support abortion rights,’ we went a step further saying ‘this is the law of the land now, so now what do you support.’”

The Hobby School’s poll asked voters to assess potential policies such as whether abortion should be considered a homicide and whether it should be legal for Texans to take abortion-inducing pills obtained out of state. Around 60% of respondents oppose both classifying abortion as a homicide and making it a felony to take abortion-inducing pills from out of state. Around 30% support those classifications, while around 10% said they don’t know.

What that suggests to me is that for now, the best approach is probably to try to draw a line in the sand and say “no more restrictions”, talk a lot about how women are being endangered right now because they can’t get treated for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies because of our “no exceptions” law, and emphasize that what Republicans want is to punish people for abortion. That’s where the vast majority of the support is. We’re going to have to do a lot more work to move things beyond that, but for the purposes of the November election, vowing to protect the rights of women that have been taken away by SCOTUS and the Legislature is the best bet.

HISD buys stuff for its police

Okay, but I hope the plan to deal with an active shooter has more than this in it.

Houston ISD trustees Thursday evening approved a measure to buy 200 rifles, ammunition and 200 ballistic shields for the district’s police department, which Superintendent Millard House II said last week was not prepared with its current equipment to stop an active shooter.

Trustees voted 6-3 on the purchase after spending roughly an hour in closed executive session discussing the item and about 20 minutes of intense discussion from the dais. Trustee Dani Hernandez proposed postponing the measure by a week because she was “not willing” to proceed without more specific information. That effort, however, failed with a 3-6 vote.

Earlier in the meeting, about a dozen speakers urged the board to delay the vote or to vote no.

“I need more information about the broader safety plan for the district in general. At this time, I don’t believe I have all the information I need,” Hernandez said before the vote. “I don’t think that we have explored all options at this point — safety is essential for HISD.”

HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez told the board last week he was confident in the training the police department had received but he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” The equipment to be purchased would be used to help with scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat.

“My officers are dedicated to our students and to our staff and regardless if we have the equipment or not, we are still going to respond,” Lopez said after the vote. “This act tonight will allow us to respond in a safer manner.”

The police gear will be for specific situations, not items that police will walk around with, House said.

“The bigger issue here is ensuring that they have all the tools possible so that they can be as safe as possible,” House said, “and provide the kind of safety that we want to provide on campuses.”

See here for the background. While in general I tend to think that most police departments have (and spend money on) too much stuff, I don’t have an opinion on this particular purchase. I’ll accept that they need it in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. I will just say again that all the manpower and equipment added up to diddly squat in Uvalde, so what I want – what I would think we would all want – is to know that there’s a plan in place for this kind of horrific scenario, and training in place to back it up. I still haven’t seen any talk about that, and that concerns me. Buying stuff is the easy part. Please reassure all of us that you’re at least working on the hard part, HISD.

More on your forthcoming phone bill increase

The Chron gets on the story.

Texans who use a phone should expect to pay more for that service, thanks to a startling rate increase adopted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas last month.

Commissioners in July voted to increase a longstanding surcharge assessed on telecommunications providers’ receipts for voice services to 24 percent from 3.3 percent. The new rate, which took effect Aug. 1, will add couple of dollars a month for a consumer with a typical individual cell phone plan, and potentially several times that for customers with family plans, or those who pay for calls on a per-minute basis.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Rusty Moore, COO of BBT Telecom, a provider headquartered in Alpine, and board president of the Texas Telephone Association.

[…]

The PUC, in a statement, said the increased fees were imposed on the telecom companies, and they “are not required” to pass on the costs onto residential and business customers. But in practice, telecommunications providers typically choose to do so, the agency explains in a separate Universal Service Fund fact sheet.

T-Mobile, for example, has begun notifying customers that increased fees will show up on their bills starting this month. The exact increase will depend on the customer’s plan.

The change will remain in effect for months, if not longer. Rich Parsons, the agency’s spokesman, said the PUC plans to reduce the fee in about a year as the fund is replenished. But, he added, the rate may not drop back to its previous level of 3.3 percent unless the commissioners vote accordingly.

“It is too soon to know how much the rate will be reduced,” he said.

While the Texas Telephone Association heralded the initial court victory, Moore explained that the PUC’s approach to covering the gap is really not what the organization had in mind, or considers best. In 2021, TTA had backed legislation that would have extended the universal service fee to voice over internet protocol service providers — which allow users to make phone calls over the internet —as well as traditional providers. The bill passed the Texas Legislature with overwhelming support but was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

It would be better, Moore argued, to have “a much longer glide path” to restoring the funding with more modest rate increases over a longer period..

“This is not what we advocated for in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

Moore’s company, BBT, reckons higher cost residential consumers approximately $4.61 per month, and business customers $6.21.

See here for the background. This story puts some actual numbers on the increase – as noted, how much your bill will go up depends on your carrier and your plan – but just implies the connection to Greg Abbott. At least now this is known to more people. Feel free to help them understand where it came from.

At least you’re (probably) not giving birth in West Texas

This is a long story about the lack of prenatal and obstetric care in West Texas. It’s mostly set in Alpine, Presidio, and Big Bend, which are the “big cities” in the area that actually have doctors and medical facilities in them. The one hospital in the area is in Big Bend, and its labor and delivery unit is now closed much of the time, for a variety of reasons. This is a small taste of what it’s like to be pregnant in this part of the state.

Big Bend is the only hospital in a 12,000-square-mile area that delivers babies. If Billings’s patient goes into labor when the maternity ward is closed, she’ll have to make a difficult choice. She can drive to the next nearest hospital, in Fort Stockton, yet another hour away. Or, if her labor is too far along and she’s unlikely to make it, she can deliver in Big Bend’s emergency room. But the ER doesn’t have a fetal heart monitor or nurses who know how to use one. It also doesn’t keep patients overnight. When a woman gives birth there, she’s either transferred to Fort Stockton—enduring the long drive after having just had a baby—or discharged and sent home.

This situation is stressful and dangerous for pregnant women. Uterine hemorrhages, postpartum preeclampsia (a potentially deadly spike in blood pressure), and other life-threatening complications are most likely to occur in the first few days after childbirth. This is why hospitals usually keep new mothers under observation for 24 hours to 48 hours. “This is not the ‘standard of care’ that women should receive,” Billings says. “You’re not supposed to discharge patients and leave it up to chance.”

Big Bend doesn’t really have a choice. In the past two years, almost all its labor and delivery nurses quit. The hospital has tried to replace them, but the national nursing shortage caused by the pandemic has made that impossible. When Big Bend is too short-staffed to deliver a baby safely, its labor and delivery unit has to close.

[…]

Medicaid pays for 42 percent of all hospital births, but it doesn’t reimburse hospitals for the full cost of care. (In most states it pays between 50 cents and 70 cents on the dollar, which means a hospital loses money when it cares for someone on the program.) To offset its losses, a hospital often charges its privately insured patients significantly higher fees. But if it’s in a poor neighborhood and doesn’t have enough privately insured patients, it can’t recoup the money. So most pre-pandemic maternity ward closures were in low-income areas and disproportionately affected pregnant women of color. Pandemic-related nursing shortages have only made the situation worse. Nowhere is this problem more evident than in Texas.

The state is the national leader in maternity ward closures. In the past decade, more than twenty rural hospitals have stopped delivering babies. More than half the state’s rural counties don’t even have a gynecologist. Texas has some of the lowest income eligibility limits for Medicaid and has declined to expand them, as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. (Childless adults don’t qualify for the program unless they’re disabled.) As a result, more than 18 percent of Texans don’t have health insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the U.S. Income eligibility limits jump for pregnant women—$36,200 for single mothers, $45,600 for married ones—but the application process takes at least a month. According to the March of Dimes, a fifth of all pregnant women in Texas don’t get prenatal care until they’re five months along. In other words, when a poor woman gets pregnant in Texas, it’s hard for her to find a doctor or even a hospital.

“What we’re seeing in terms of health outcomes, it’s not good,” says John Henderson, chief executive officer and president of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals. “We have lower birth weights, more preterm births. When it comes to caring for pregnant women and their babies, Texas does not compare favorably to other states.”

Like I said, this is a long story and it’s worth your time to read. I’m old enough to remember when tort “reform”, in particular putting a cap on damage awards that can be given in medical malpractice lawsuits, was supposed to usher in a new era of doctor abundance in Texas. I don’t think that has worked out in the way we were promised. Towards the end, one of the doctors the author spoke to for the story notes that since abortion was already impossible to get in their region, the new state ban on abortion likely won’t result in more babies being born there. These docs will still deal with miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening situations – they tell some amazing stories – despite the threat to their own safety. Click over and read on for more.