Texas: Where the Men Are Men and the Women are Property

10 Jan

G0524WARONWOMEN7I need to thank my friend Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this story. The state of Texas isn’t known as a safe place for women or a bastion of reproductive rights. A new case arising in a Texas hospital takes things to a new low, however.

Marlise Munoz suffered what appeared to be a blood clot and collapsed in her kitchen. She was rushed to the hospital but doctors were unable to revive her. They informed the family that she was brain dead. Her husband and parents sadly prepared to honor her explicit wishes and disconnect her from life support.

The hiccup? Ms. Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant. Under Texas law, care cannot be removed from a pregnant woman. Although medical ethics experts argue that the law applies to vegetative and comatose patients, John Peter Smith Hospital opted for a broad interpretation rather than risk legal action, and applied it to Marlise Munoz. As her father bluntly observes:

All she is is a host for a fetus. I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?

He is absolutely right. The law itself is horrific and violates personal and family choice. That these doctors would take it to such an extreme clearly illustrates how every chip made in the bedrock of reproductive rights can be opened into a chasm.

The hypocrisy is palpable. The hypothetical rights of a non-viable fetus have been elevated above the clear wishes of a woman and her family — and it’s all done in the name of protecting life. Of course, if that kid manages to be born and grows up to break the law, (s)he has a better chance of being executed in Texas than anywhere else in the country.

But that’s all right. After all, Marlise Munoz was just a woman. Sadly, women have more restrictions over the governance of their bodies since 1972.  I worry about the message this sends to both women and men. It has now become the norm for our government to police women’s bodies in ways that would never be acceptable to police men’s bodies.  For more information regarding the backwards trend for women’s reproductive rights, click here.


According to the New York Times there is some good news for this family: Judge R.H. Wallace Jr. of State District Court in Texas ordered the John Peter Smith Hospital to pronounce Marlise Munoz dead and to remover her from life support. Sadly, the hospital now has the chance to appeal that ruling, which would dishonor the wishes of Munoz’ family.


18 Responses to “Texas: Where the Men Are Men and the Women are Property”

  1. Jennifer Carey January 10, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    This story was disturbing to me on many levels. While I do not know all of the details (at least they are honoring her privacy), the fact that this very personal decision is not being made by her husband and family, their grief and pain is being drawn out, and they are forcing this woman to be an incubator is disturbing on so many levels. I also wonder if the state of Texas (which did not expand Medicare or promote the ACA) is charging Ms. Munoz’s husband for her medical bills?
    She explicitly stated she did not want to be kept alive this way. Her husband, who one would assume knows his wife well, made the decision that his wife would still not want to be kept alive knowing that she was pregnant. Isn’t that the whole “sanctity of marriage” element? That husbands and wives make decisions together for the benefit of their family and one another (if they are incapacitated)?

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 10, 2014 at 7:21 am #

      Jennifer, we should be exceedingly disturbed and outraged. I’m so appreciative of you inspiring me to write about this but I wonder and worry why it is not getting more media exposure.

  2. prideinmadness January 10, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    I’m glad I live where I do. I can’t imagine having to defend myself in such a way.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 10, 2014 at 7:22 am #

      Exactly! Women should not have to live under such scrutiny, or be kept alive despite despite their wishes in a living will.

      • anoNY January 11, 2014 at 4:17 am #

        But Marlize Munoz is no longer alive.

  3. Central Oregon Coast NOW January 10, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW and commented:
    Protect Oregon Women and Make Sure that Equal Rights for Women are Guaranteed in Oregon’s Constitution. Sign PETITION and DONATE.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 10, 2014 at 7:54 am #

      Thank you for reblogging this and yes, let us hope people will donate and that men will stand in solidarity with women.

  4. Central Oregon Coast NOW January 10, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Thank you for writing about this horrific and non-defensible action. We need to be ever-vigilant that something like this doesn’t happen in our state. This example is one of many of why we need women’s rights guaranteed in Oregon’s Constitution (22 states have Equal Rights Amendments (ERA) to their constitutions; Oregon does not). We do not want women to lose the gains we have made with a change in a court interpretation or a legislative whim. We are fortunate to currently have a democratic majority in both houses, and a Supreme Court that is not likely to restrict women’s rights by interpreting Art. I Sec. 20 of the Oregon Constitution differently than it was interpreted in 1984 in the case of Hewitt v. SAIF, but the tides have changed before and are likely to change again (I look at Wisconsin which used to be a progressive state and now has Scott Walker as its governor; and we all know how Roe V. Wade is being whittled away). We need equal rights expressly set forth in the Oregon Constitution, and every other state constitution, as well as the US Constitution. For those who are registered to vote in Oregon please go to http://www.voteera.org and sign and mail in the e-petition to get the Oregon ERA on the November 2014 ballot (you can also volunteer and donate!). The “experts” believe that having the ERA Amendment on the ballot will also help get the Marriage Equality initiative passed as it will bring out more voters who are likely to vote for both.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 10, 2014 at 8:25 am #

      Nancy, it feels like something out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. We are fortunate to live in Oregon, but yes, we must remain vigilant here and ensure that women have access to safe healthcare and have governance over their own bodies. I’m so grateful that you are a champion of ERA Oregon.

  5. Jennifer Carey January 10, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    The New York Times highlight this story in conjunction with the tragic story of the girl in Oakland declared brain dead after routine surgery.

  6. Jennifer Carey January 10, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    Another reader brought up the point that the fetus in this case may have suffered irreparable and irreversal damage as a result of Munoz’s medical condition.

  7. anoNY January 11, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    This particular case is not a women’s rights issue. The woman here is brain dead, which is the same thing as being all-the-way dead. The woman thus no longer exists, and only a corpse remains. Corpses have no rights.

    Now, that is not to say that the law does not raise women’s rights issues in other cases, such as comas or vegetable states. I am only saying that Marlise Munoz is dead, and thus has no more rights. In that case, why not try to save the baby?

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 11, 2014 at 7:08 am #

      Actually corpses do have rights. We honors the wishes of the dead all the time, for example a living will.

  8. Bruce Kestelman January 11, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Hi Michael,

    Many thanks to you and Jennifer for bringing this to top of mind attention.

    I wonder whether this is really about just noticeable differences or the boiling the frog metaphor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog

    While I agree with you about the injustice of what is happening in Texas, what is even more disturbing is what has been happening over the past 3 years to abortion rights. Thanks for providing the link at the end of your post. We’ve seen too much erosion of basic human rights since many states gerrymandered their state legislators to enable them with ALEC and other organization support, to change so many laws that provide for social justice and equal rights.

    My most fearful thoughts are more about what will happen in the presidential election as there may not be a candidate as attractive to African Americans as Obama, and with barriers being put up to voting rights, there may be many minority and poor folks who are unable to vote because they are working 2-3 jobs to live a subsistence existence or because they can’t get child care or because they are too frail to get to the polls and stand in long lines, or the costs (real and opportunity) of getting an ID to vote are too expensive, or they believe they have no control over anything at all, etc.

    Imagine what would be if the two recent Supreme Court Associate Justices would have been appointed by John McCain or Mitt Romney. Imagine what would have been if the Senate was majority Republican. Even with a majority of folks who care about social justice and progressive issues, there may be so many barriers put up that there could be the possibility of a Republican President and Republican Senate.

    I think too many folks still see the world through their self interests vs. an enlightened self interest perspective. We have folks who see government funded private schools, even religious schools as OK, or limits to abortion rights are OK, or limits on public employee unions are OK, or government defunding of state supported colleges and universities are OK because of what matters, or doesn’t matter to them. Too many folks I fear miss the impact on our liberal institutions and the direction the country is taking. They miss the real costs to them in a larger sense. Our rights and opportunities are being removed brick by brick as opposed to wall by wall by a well funded (can you say businesses are people?) minority who think that they need to have an even greater share of the wealth and control of the government to ensure that happens.

    So, I’ll end this rant (and I think it is a rant, sorry) by suggesting that our focus needs to be on helping everyone who cares understand that in order to move towards a more socially just world, people will need to see and understand the bigger picture and realize that we are better served when our interests are focused on things bigger than ourselves and not simply on our self interests. And it will be hard.

    How do you ask a parent to send a child to a failing public school when it appears there is a safe government funded religious school down the block? Yet most of those schools fail our children about equally to the public schools (the successful schools touted on the news are the exceptions) .

    For Wisconsin http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/article/2013/apr/28/public-vs-private-sorting-out-truth-school-debate/

    And yes, the more recent union mentality probably helped to create some of that failure, but it’s hard to believe that the schools can fix all the social ills that we expect. For example, “Of the five billion meals provided nationally to 31 million students during the 2011-12 school year, 59 percent were free of charge (because families were at 130% of poverty or below), 9 percent were reduced price (because families were at 185% of poverty or below), and the other 33 percent were paid.” It wasn’t until 1946 that schools were charged permanently with the role of feeding poor children.


    I’ve not ended, just abandoned this rant for now.


    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 11, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      I did not think it possible for you to rise in my esteem, but you have! You wax poetically and through a lens of social justice here. I fear your “boiled frog” metaphor is frightfully spot on, as witness the slow deterioration of women’s health rights, and other human rights violations that you point to. The gutting of the Voter’s Rights act by the Supreme Court is such a horrible mar on American history.

      I did not read this as a rant, but rather a call to action for us all to be aware and present. We need to be aware of the decisions and policies being made by people in power that do not honor the social contract, but rather are dedicated, as you rightly said, self interest.

      Thank you for your voice.

      In solidarity,

      • Bruce Kestelman January 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

        Thanks Michael.


      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 11, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

        Bruce, Thank You!

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