hospital board meets this month:
Will area women
"We have got to mobilize the silent majority in this country, who
assume that because the Supreme
Court said a woman could get an
abortion that she could get one.
If she's a poor woman she may
not be able to get one now."
—Judith Widdicomb, President
—National Abortion Federation
By Gertrude Barnstone
The Supreme Court apparently
saw nothing inconsistent about
defending a woman's right to
an abortion (1973), while denying poor women the means to get
And, in the Court's defense,
President Jimmy Carter apparently saw nothing incongruous in
saying the rich have always been
able to afford things the poor
With the Court's decision and
the President's sanction, Congress,
not surprisingly, finds itself deadlocked over the issue of federal
funds for abortions for the indigent.
But the question of whether
Houston area poor women will
still have the choice of terminating a pregnancy will be decided in Houston by seven members of the Harris County Hospital District Board of Managers.
At present, indigent women
continue to get abortions at
Jeff Davis Hospital, but the
county hospital's board has yet to
take action on the abortion question.
Sarah Weddington successfully argued the 1973
Supreme Court case granting
women the right of
Barbara Schachtel and
six other county-
hospital board members will decide
if poor women will
continue to have
the right to /
"...The most effective national
group in the country these days
is the anti-abortion lobby. Any
journalist, for example, will tell
you that merely suggesting a pro-
abortion sentiment in the paper
will visit a hernia upon the neighborhood mailman. In the past
week since I wrote about the
Supreme Court decision, the mail
has been replete with pictures of
pickled fetuses, dire warnings of
hellfire and suggestions that the
world would be a better place if
my mother had aborted me.
'This is a tiny smidgen of what
happens to legislators. They regularly receive batches of letters
from, say, one small town in Ohio,
all written in the same terminology by people, none of whom
supposedly knows the others. This
is what is known—but rarely
mentioned in the civics class-
"On the whole, legislators re
spond to pressure the way a leg
responds to a sharp rap upon the
Houston Post, July 8, 1977
in favor of Hyde earlier.
The matter went to a conference committee, where the two
houses were fighting it out. But,
meanwhile, the House's side prevails, with Medicaid abortions suspended at least until the end of
the month. By then, the House-
Senate conferences hope to agree
on a new measure to send back to
their respective memberships. If
they don't, there will be votes a-
gain on Hyde in each house.
Anti-abortion forces will deluge members with "right to life"
letters if recent history is any
guide. The well-organized grassroots effort has enjoyed victory of
late, despite polls which show a
n ajority of Americans-67 percent
in one poll, 81 percent in another
—favor a woman's right to choose
abortion. Still, Congress-especially
the House-usually gauges public
opinion by its own mail.
"By relying on the courts to do
their work for them, the (pro-
abortion forces) loftily have a-
bandoned the processes of democracy to the ardent right-to-lifers,"
an editorial in the New Republic
pointed out recently.
ABC newsman Frank Reynolds
made a similar observation. At the
conclusion of his report on the
passage of the Hyde Amendment,
the network reporter told a nationwide audience, "American
women may very well be living in
the last days of an era in which
they have come to take for granted their right to abortion on
I fear that the court's decisions will be an invitation to public officials,
already under extraordinary pressure from well-financed and carefully orchestrated lobbying campaigns, to approve more such abortion restrictions.
— Justice Thurgood Marshall
Harris County Attorney Joe
Resweber's office has told the
board it can legally continue offering abortions in the first trimester to women who meet the
district's economic criteria.
"There exists no mandatory
requirement for providing or
not providing non-therapeutic
abortions," the legal opinion
While some observers believe
the board will avoid the issue
as long as possible — perhaps
as late as the March budget-
making session — action could
come at any one of their monthly
meetings, possibly as early as
September 22, the date of the
next board meeting at Jeff Davis
Speakers on both sides of the
abortion question are scheduled ,
to. appear. Those favoring free
choice for all women hope to rally
supporters to attend the 3 p.m.
A newly formed chapter of the
Medical Committee for Human
Rights, a national organization
dating to the civil rights days of
the 1960's, plans to circulate petitions urging the board to continue giving poor women the
choice of abortion. The group,
comprised of nurses, medical students and doctors, plans to center
its drive at area colleges and med
ical schools. Persons interested in
more information may call Virginia McGuffin at 527-9920.
Houston women have fared
better than those in St. Louis,
where the mayor has ordered a
halt to all abortions at city hospitals — even for women who can
afford them. And the county supervisor has ordered the suspension of the county's program for
referring indigent women to abortion clinics.
In Austin, Brackenridge Hospital, a city facility, will use city
and county funds for abortions
for low income women. The hospital board adopted a resolution
drafted by member Sophie Weiss
to provide them "in order to assure that clinic card patients continue to have available a full range
of medical and social services
comparable to those available to
San Antonio's Bexar County
Hospital District will use county
funds for abortions for "very
The governing board of what
used to be called the Texas State
Department of Public Welfare
(now renamed the Department of
Human Resources) accepted
measures restricting abortions recommended by Dr. Emmett
Greif, its deputy commissioner
for medical administration.
While HEW requires only one
physical to certify an abortion
is needed to protect a woman's
health, the Board agreed with one
of Greif's rules requiring a second
doctor's opinion in some cases.
The whole tangle of opinions
and votes and pending decisions
began when the U.S. House of
Representatives responded to the
Court's June 20 decision that
abortion funding be allowed but
not required by passing the Hyde
amendment. It called for a complete ban on the use of federal
funds for abortions. The Senate,
however, refused to go that far
but voted for ending federal funding "except where the life of the
mother would be endangered if
the fetus were carried to full term
or where medically necessary, or
for the treatment of rape or incest
Texas' senators, Democrat
Lloyd Bentsen and Republican
John Tower, both voted for the
measure sponsored by Republican
Edward Brooke, the Senate's only
In the House, Barbara Jordan,
Bob Eckhardt, and Jack Brooks
voted against Hyde. Houston's
conservative Republican representative, Bill Archer, voted for it.
And the area's newest House
member, Bob Gammage, was absent for the final vote but voted
In 1975, Judith Guthrie first met with Texas Insurance Commissioner Joe Christie, to discuss the elimination of sex bias in state
Faced with the possibilities of change through legislation or
amending the regulations Guthrie, a former state president of WEAL,
decided changing the regulations would be most efficient. Christie
and his legal staff cooperated on the project. A year later, the proposed rules were published; WEAL, TWPC, and NOW submitted
supporting legal briefs.
Guthrie and former State Representative Sarah Weddington of
Austin testified before the State Board during the October 1976
hearings together with representatives from the insurance industry
who spoke in opposition to the insurance reforms. The State Board
firmly supported the new regulations and, in subsequent conferences,
differences were worked out between the women's groups and insurance companies.
The regulations were adopted in June of this year. Guthrie discusses these new regulations and their effect on women in her article
below. — Editors.
by Judith K. Guthrie
The details of insurance regulation excite few people outside the
business itself. So, it should come
as no surprise that, with little fanfare, the Texas State Insurance
Board recently adopted an important new set of rules dealing with
sex and marital status discrimination.
As with most issues that have
an economic impact on the public, women have been "sheltered"
from most useful knowledge of
insurance. This has allowed the industry to perpetrate some rather
peculiar policies and practices
when it comes to insuring women.
The new rules passed by the
State Board June 30 and set to be
come effective the first of next
year will go a long way toward eliminating much of the discrimination now existing. The regulations
affect several major areas of underwriting.
Availability of policies may not
be denied on the basis of sex or
marital status. This means that
companies can no longer refuse to
cover women with any kind of insurance when men under similar
circumstances are insured.
For example, middle-aged and
older women sometimes find it
difficult, if not impossible, to purchase health insurance. Now, if
companies are insuring men at the
continued on p. 16
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH SEPTEMBER 1977 PAGE 3