By Perdita Henry
My first year as an eligible voter found me as an 18-year-old in Naval boot camp. As I adapted to a new life, I still found myself concerned about my other civic duty, voting. Before I entered the isolated world of Recruit Training Command, I was a regular teen watching MTV—before they completely stopped playing music videos—and being threatened by celebrities to Vote or Die.
I wanted to do my part, and I never wanted to hear anything about hanging chads ever again.
Two keys to civic engagement is education and access. Ensuring the people have the information needed to make informed decisions ahead of election day and that barriers to voting are reduced.
There are numerous organizations that work to ensure voters are educated on the issues before they head to the polls. It’s not always sexy work, but someone’s got to do it, and at that intersection we find the League of Women Voters of Texas.
“[We have] 100 years of experience,” Advocacy Chair for Women’s Health, Louise Hytken says. “We are a nonpartisan, grassroots civic organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. The League is one of America’s oldest and most trusted civic nonprofit organizations.”
“Membership in the League is open to people 16 and older of all gender identities,” President of League of Women Voters of Texas, Grace Chimene says. “We work to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.”
What are some of the women’s healthcare related bills the League is advocating for during the 87th legislative session?
The League signed on to a letter supporting HB 133, which will allow mothers to remain enrolled in Medicaid
coverage for up to 12 months after pregnancy, rather than just two months under current law. When women experience gaps in their healthcare coverage, it increases their risk for negative health outcomes, maternal mortality, and unintended pregnancy.
The League also asked its members to support Senate Bill 117 and House Bill 3871 (Live Well Texas) and Rider 63, which would have been helpful in negotiating Medicaid coverage for Texans and hospital funding for uninsured Texans.
You all just launched the Democracy is Good for Business initiative. Why were you all inspired to launch this program and what do you hope it will do?
Texas LULAC, Texas NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Texas partnered together to reach out to Texas businesses, large and small, to take nonpartisan action to support democracy. We are inspired by the Annette Strauss Institute’s data that shows, “Communities with strong indicators of civic health as measured by the Civic Health Index have higher employment rates, stronger schools, better physical health, and more responsive governments.”
The Texas Legislature needs to hear that “Democracy is Good for Business.” Businesses sign on in support of the following statements: We believe in democracy and the right to vote. We are against discriminatory legislation designed to limit Americans’ ability to vote. We agree all politicians should be committed to encouraging every eligible voter to participate in our elections.
The League is one of America’s oldest and most trusted civic nonprofit organizations. What inspires you all to keep going when progress is made and then is knocked back?
The League is truly a grassroots volunteer driven organization. Our members and supporters lead the fight in support of our mission: Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy. League members know that the right to vote is a critical principle of our democracy and that our democracy is stronger when every eligible voter can cast a vote, and have it count. The League encourages every eligible voter to cast a ballot in every election to make their voices heard.
Why is it important for your organization to be a TWHC member?
We work best when we work together. TWHC works closely with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and is influential in providing input on the administration of Healthy Texas Women (HTW) and other programs.
TWHC is constantly monitoring the women’s health budget and the effectiveness of various programs. You all help to keep us informed about various programs and which bills stand to improve Texas women’s health. Also, it is helpful for the League to network and get information from other Coalition members.
What does an ideal future for women’s health look like according to the League of Women Voters of Texas?
The healthcare safety net would be robust for all Texas women. They would be able to obtain quality healthcare through insurance or government programs, which would include Medicaid expansion. Women would have access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives of their choice, including the most effective forms of contraception – implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Women would have preventative care and other necessary care for their well-being. There would be lots of qualified providers.
In addition, women would have autonomy over their own bodies and have the right to make their own decisions regarding reproduction.