Here are the three Standing Watch Letters that are being delivered to our elected officials at the Capitol. The Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House received these letters last week. Ninety-four of us in Austin and Houston have signed these letters, including the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and five other clergy members. While I am an Episcopalian, members of Friends for Civil Action represent many secular and faith belief traditions. Our views are rooted in the general belief that we are residents of our neighborhoods and the world and that we want to be good neighbors and good community members.
Letter #1: Why Funding Planned Parenthood is Faithful, Fiscally Prudent Action Relevant to SB 4; HB 14; HB 214, and other bills.
Dear Elected Officials,
I write as a representative of Friends for Civil Action. As someone who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats, I look at both sides of the political aisle. I do so trying to apply my top three life values—acting kindly, demonstrating empathy, and finding forgiveness—into action. I aspire to these values, but, of course, fall short of them regularly or even forget about them. If I adopt a cynical or glib tone anywhere in this letter, that is me falling short of my values.
Today, our topic is funding for Planned Parenthood. No public dollars are spent on abortions. I support everything about Planned Parenthood.
The contraception, general health care, education and abortion services they provide offer critically needed care for young people, poor people, and people who select Planned Parenthood as their preferred health-care provider. We need more people to have better access to contraception and reproductive services, not fewer.
I attended the SB 4 hearing on July 21st. The remarks were opened with the statement that millions of Texans oppose funding Planned Parenthood because it is an abortion provider.
I believe millions of Texans support funding Planned Parenthood, but have not made their voices effectively heard in the Legislature. Many of us, including people who practice a mainline faith tradition like myself, give priority to the mother who is not prepared to carry a child in her womb, much less raise that child.
Take the case of a twelve-year old pregnant girl mentioned as part of mentioned in the July 21st Senate hearing. If I were the mother of a twelve-year old pregnant girl, I would want to spare my child the trauma of carrying a baby to term. I believe there are others in Texas who would want that, too.
Most of all, they would like for their children or those they love who aren’t ready for pregnancy not to get pregnant. Planned Parenthood has a great track record of helping people avoid unwanted pregnancies.
As an Episcopalian, I’m proud of my faith tradition for posting on its advocacy website page the national church’s position on women’s reproductive health care. My church wants women to have access to reproductive care, including contraception. My church wants women to be discerning if abortion is under consideration. Visit http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org for details.
That doesn’t mean that all Episcopalians are pro-choice as I am, just as it doesn’t mean that all Catholics eschew contraception or abortion. Nor do all Friends for Civil Action hold my exact views.
Life is complex. Visualize the forty-year old woman, newly pregnant with two autistic children and a husband who has just lost his job. The family is in fragile shape. Having another baby will make the family more so.
For me the choice about abortion and contraception is clear. If a young girl or a mother of any age is put at risk financially and emotionally because the mother is not prepared to carry a baby to term, abortion is a good—even a wise—choice, if the mother or the pregnant child’s support team are pro-choice.
The women who give birth, either putting their babies up for adoption or trying to raise them when they are not prepared to do so, come away scarred. Others in their wake are likely to be scarred, too.
If we were people who did what we were supposed to, because we were informed—no over-indulgence in alcohol, no drugs, no unprotected sex, no sex that is harmful to one or to others, no bad behavior generally—life would be much simpler than it is.
Good information is a starting point. Information helps some of us behave better, but it isn’t the cure-all. Brain chemistry and bad luck hold others hostage.
What do we do as a society? Do we keep telling people to behave with the belief that will fix things?
I’ve been around for many years and served on many social service and Episcopal organization boards. I’ve seen again and again that we can fix some things and will have to continue struggling with other things.
The struggle is complicated each time a baby is born into fragile circumstances. I don’t believe this is what God wants. I believe God—the all-know and loving God that many claim—has the capacity to understand and to not want increased suffering for the people already here.
I wouldn’t undo anyone’s life, but in the situation of choosing between the people who are already here and those in the womb, I’m comfortable with choosing the people here when that choice is needed.
Others won’t be, and that’s why that’s their choice. That’s the meaning of pro-choice. Provide the latitude for the woman or the people guiding the pregnant child to do what is best in their circumstances.
More than one-third—37.9% of all delivering mothers—last year were single. Not all, but many of these women began parenthood in a highly vulnerable position.
One-half of all baby deliveries last year were paid for by Medicaid. A baby born into poverty is more likely to stay in poverty than not, based on data.
Babies born into vulnerable circumstances are likely to require a form of public assistance potentially throughout their lives.
Cutting Planned Parenthood funding is a very expensive proposition for taxpayers. We need Planned Parenthood, a proven health care provider that honors women and their needs, more than we ever have.
I first became acquainted with Planned Parenthood when I was appointed to their board as the Junior League of Austin’s representative. Of the many boards I’ve served on, I’ve seen no better organization at doing its job.
I believe there are many Republicans, as well as Democrats, that support Planned Parenthood, but that our voices have not transmitted. Some of us are at work this very week to do a better job of making our voices heard.
Mary (Molly) H. Sharpe Austin, TX 78703-2833
Letter # 2: The Value of Public Schools
Relevant to SB 2 and other Bills
Dear Elected Officials,
As you may be, some of us are weary of the name calling and attacks on people’s intentions. A few of in Friends for Civil Action have read Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s bestseller. She is a recipient of the Toner Price for Excellence in Political Reporting and the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence presented by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard. Perhaps you have heard of the book or read it. Ms. Mayer does a good job in my view of keeping a pretty civil tone, but what’s happening, as she describes it, has an epic quality that makes it difficult to remain calm.
Reading Dark Money was where I first learned of The Bradley Foundation’s early investment in “school choice” the movement many Texas legislators are now trying to bring to Texas, first opening the door to this policy approach by proposing to allow public money to follow some special needs students into private schools.
Before going further, let me say that many Friends for Civil Action are all for public charter schools that provide choice to children, because they do so under an umbrella that is accountable to tax payers.
The “school choice” movement involving private schools has advanced to the point where we now have the owner of private schools for profit as the Secretary of Education for our country. I have two friends from church who I know to be kind, caring people who are great fans of Betsy DeVos and know her personally. I am convinced of my friends’ kindness, but I believe firmly that public schools—not a public and private school mix—present the way of out of poverty for the children of Texas.
As you know, half of the children born each year in the state –that would be 205,000 at least based on the 2015 data I’ve seen and this is a number that very likely is growing—have their deliveries paid for by Medicaid. Poverty puts them at extreme disadvantage as they start their walks in life. This at-risk population is continually increasing.
To me, it seems an abdication of elected officials’ responsibility to step aside from helping the public school system continually improve. I believe the Texas legislature needs to fully commit to a quality public education system. The first step toward achieving that is to reform the way schools are financed–hard, but essential work.
We voters are often not very informed. We are often quite persuadable, based on having a person whose politics we think we like provide a soundbite on why a certain action should become law. We are even more persuadable if it looks as if we would personally benefit. I can see why offering teachers a $1,000 raise would sound good to many teachers. However, I consider such a plan a component of re-election strategy. I see this as a move that is destructive to schools, since the schools are not being provided any money by the state under this proposal to pay for these raises.
It is easy for those of us removed from the day to day lives of running a school–where just about everything is experienced, since schools are the center of children’s lives–to say that it’s bad to spend money on administration and good to spend money on teachers. The truth is a good administrator wants to get as much money to her or his teachers as possible. The school principals and superintendents have a view of what is required to run their schools as effectively as possible with the resources provided. The have local school boards to help further with that evaluation process. Those of us not making the daily walk through these schools don’t necessarily know the needs.
I have sat through several testimony sessions. I read, hear, and see news reports multiple times a day. The legislators who are supporting the special session agenda set by the Governor and Lt. Governor seem to me to take pride in rejecting expert testimony and raising up the voice of the individual.
In practice, I think it is foolhardy to put too much trust in the individual. The example of “parental oversight” providing the accountability factor for public money directed to privates schools presents such a risk factor. We know there are many parents out there that aren’t equipped to make good choices–taking the foster care population, incarcerated parents, and parents suffering from the opioid epidemic as just three examples. The children of parents in any of these situations need extraordinary interventions to navigate their educations. Private schools aren’t set up for such interventions. This needs to be done by the public, if we are to have hope of continuing as a civilized society. Yes, this sounds dramatic. It’s the presence of the crisis that has brought us out to Stand Watch.
I will detour for a paragraph and mention the “Do Not Resuscitate” legislation proposed as part of SB 4. At the July 21st health and human services Senate committee hearing, I heard a credible doctor based at Baylor Scott and White hospital testify why the proposed legislation hampered doctors’ ability to give sick patients treatment according to professional standards. I then saw the movie “The Big Sick” (playing now at the Violet Crown) and was reminded of the medical emergency in my own family two years ago. Medical emergencies don’t tend to unfold systematically. Family members are missing from action. The patient himself or herself may have a brain that is malfunctioning. Different doctors are seeing different patterns from the same images. A medical emergency can be terrifying and require many efforts and much advocacy to get things as right as possible. Simplifying matters to “it’s the patient’s choice or the family’s choice” in all too many cases doesn’t work. It’s part of the process, not the sole solution.
Back to schools, if we don’t invest in the children of Texas to the very best of our ability, using both the qualitative and quantitative assessment to keep moving forward with the new challenges that are part of life, Texas will quickly become a bleak place to live.
Mary (Molly) H. Sharpe| Austin, TX 78703-2833
Letter # 3: Human Rights, Immigrant Support, and Selected Local Rights are Good for Business and Good for People; Relevant to SB 3; SB 91; HB 46; SB 1; SB 4 (regular session)
Dear Elected Officials,
The days grow dark as the session continues. The hearts of Friends for Civil Action–at least a good many of our hearts–break for the transgenders who have been singled out and put at the center of a proposed law that has caused IBM, the National Episcopal Church and many other venerable groups to speak out in opposition. Damage is being done to the business reputation Texas has had; jobs will be lost. The hurt from this bill proposal is financial and moral.
Texas has a long, close association with Mexico. Many immigrants from throughout Latin America live in our state and contributing citizens who have brought a cultural richness to who we are. Friends for Civil Action are reasonable people. We understand that borders can’t just be opened up for everyone to pass through. We understand that immigration is difficult to manage, because so many people around the world live in miserable conditions and historically sought to come to the United States, just as most of our ancestors once did.
Friends for Civil Action join with faith groups who are appalled by the unfriendly SB 4 passed during the regular session that has created fear of deportation among the 1.4 million undocumented immigrants and their family members living in Texas. We support a pathway to legal documentation for the immigrants who are here in Texas who have come to improve their way of life. No, we don’t want drug cartel members in Texas. We support reasonable measures to keep them out. The border wall is not a reasonable measure. The border wall, a $28 billion project–a meaningful sum of money that could be applied many worth places–will not be paid for by Mexico. Or if Congress finds some circular way to force that upon Mexico, it will be with cost to the U.S. economy, particularly the Texas economy. Important habitat is at risk, starting with Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Eighteen-foot walls can be scaled with ladders by people who want into the country badly enough.
Tragically, we have just witnessed what people who are not criminal, but are desperate for escape from a bad life will do to reach what they believe is a place of hope. The truck in the Walmart lot in San Antonio has burned a memory in our conscious that will be and should be hard to shake. Marginalizing immigrants as scapegoats who bring badness to our country is wrong. We are a country built on people taking what to others were unimaginable risks to arrive here. It’s a complicated matter. It’s not a matter fixed with a wall, an ugly wall that will ruin landscapes of Texas we love. More important, though, are the considerations of people impacted by the wall. My church has on its diocesan website this phrase: “We honor tradition and strive to live by the examples of Jesus Christ, welcoming the stranger, helping our neighbors and offering love and forgiveness.”
I am tongue-tied as I try to find words about the local ordinances. Yes, some human rights and other matters are better dealt with universally. Capping property taxes for municipalities has bad fiscal implications for cities, towns, and counties. Tree needs in Bastrop, Lubbock, Westlake Hills, and Port Aransas are very different and should be legislated locally. Mostly we are confused and disappointed by the governor who is supposed to be concerned for all constituents proposing actions that are hurtful to municipalities and hurtful to the quality of life in Texas.
Mary (Molly) H. Sharpe| Austin, TX 78703-2833