As the nation focuses its attention on Indiana’s failed attempt to legalize discrimination against gays, a second offensive in the culture war is being waged under the radar, this time against women and their reproductive rights. The states of the Bible belt insist on provoking these battles again and again, yet never to their own benefit. It’s almost as if the Republicans are purposefully miring their populations in poverty, ignorance, and harm just placate their own moral superiority complex, because their actions fly in the face of any conception of responsible governance.
On March 26th, Governor Mike Pence announced a state of emergency in Scott County. In the quiet town of Austin, with some 4,300 residents and a singular doctor, an outbreak of HIV has reached 80 cases, and the state is scrambling to organize a response. Pence has gone against his previous statements and allowed a short-term needle exchange program to be instated, as most of the transmission occurred through the sharing of needles by the towns plentiful drug addicts- unsurprising in a place where 23% of the population lives below the poverty line.
This epidemic has broken out because the town’s only testing outpost, a Planned Parenthood, was closed in 2003, along with four others in neighboring counties. Indiana’s Republican Congress defunded the family planning and STI testing nonprofit in 2011 over the link to abortion clinics- even though the five Indiana clinics were only testing centers. The other nearest testing center was five miles away- but those who needed it had no transportation.
The sad episode of Austin, IND, is a microcosm of what a Republican America would look like, a glimpse into the human cost of the conservative agenda. By denying the people access to healthcare and family planning, unwanted children and disease keep the population mired in poverty. With poorly funded or no education at all, those problems are exacerbated; opportunities are few and social mobility is stymied. With no opportunities or hope for bettering themselves, people often turn to drug use, especially since deregulation of the pharmaceutical industry and over-prescription has flooded America with widely available and powerfully addicting opiates. And that’s how you end up with an HIV epidemic in rural Indiana.
This isn’t an isolated issue. The state of Texas has the third-highest rate of HIV infection in the country and the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate, but the Republicans thought it was a better idea to divert $6 million in HIV prevention funds to abstinence-only education instead. They also voted to ban Planned Parenthood from distributing educational materials in schools. A pending bill would publicly name judges who granted permission for minors to have abortions, which is clearly aimed at discouraging the practice in a state that needs it the most.
All of this is only going to further exacerbate a public crisis that Texan Republicans refuse to acknowledge. The Spotlight on Poverty reports that “More than one in four Texas children live in poverty, 18 percent live in high-poverty areas, Texas is No. 2 in percentage of children without health insurance, 59 percent of children have no access to preschool and 21 percent didn’t graduate from high school on schedule.” It fuels a cycle of poverty that puts the health and happiness of Texan people at grave risk, but apparently that’s a sacrifice the Republican Party is willing to make to gratify their obsolete delusions of moral purity.
This is what a Republican America would look like, and makes the advancement of the progressive agenda even more critical with the upcoming departure of President Obama from office. Their consistent disregard for the welfare of their citizens is criminal, all in the name of a radical religious interpretation that doesn’t resound with most of the nation. It’s a travesty that holds our nation back in every way.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.