We all owe Rick Perry an apology. Compared to his successor, his time as Texas governor looks downright reasonable. Greg Abbott has hardly begun his governorship and has already revealed himself to be a Pandora’s box of crazy. When he’s not organizing state troops to prevent President Obama from “invading” Texas or appointing a Christian homeschooler to oversee the state’s massive public school system, he’s apparently getting his medical policy advice from long-discredited Scientologists.
In a move that even his own party found baffling, Gov. Abbott (R) recently vetoed a popular, bipartisan bill that proponents had hoped would give doctors and medical facilities more resources to help patients with mental health issues. In a political climate where politicians oftentimes can’t even agree on what day of the week it is, the bill was broadly accepted, especially as the risks associated with mental illness, including self-harm, continue to stack up in scientific studies.
The bill would have allowed physicians to place a “four-hour hold on a mentally ill patient if they are suspected of being a danger to themselves or others.” It hoped to address the problem of people who are suffering from mental health episodes checking themselves out of hospitals or treatment centers while still posing a risk. The bill had the support of two of the nation’s largest medical associations, including Texas’ own Hospital Association:
“The Texas Hospital Association, on behalf of its 400-plus member hospitals, is disappointed that Gov. Greg Abbott chose to veto Senate Bill 359, which would have given physicians in hospitals an important tool to help patients in psychiatric distress and protect community safety.”
Instead of smooth passage into law, Abbott killed the bill. But why?
According to an explosive new investigation published by the Texas Tribune, a lot of Abbott’s reservations about the bill came directly from an anti-medical Scientology group which adheres to the belief that “no mental ‘diseases’ have ever been proven to medically exist.” Similarly, they believe that psychiatry is a lie and therapists are no different from “terrorists” – a claim originating with Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard. They also have a strong stance against using pharmaceuticals in any capacity, again stemming from the belief that mental illness is a myth and treating it does more harm than good.
It is this group that Abbott found so persuasive as to derail a bill supported by the medical community, actual doctors, and a majority of his own colleagues.
Citizens Commission on Human Rights, the same Scientology group which once referred to “mental disease” as nonexistent, delivered a letter to the governor’s office demanding Abbott kill the bill because it threatened a patient’s right to “refuse medical care” – which is kind of the whole point.
Speaking with the Texas Tribune, CCHR’s lobbyist Lee Spiller said his group was supported by a number other organizations dedicated to “right and liberty” (read: conservative) issues. Some of those friends included an anti-vaxxer group (Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education) and the Texas Home School Coalition. Truly, it was a meeting of the minds.
After Abbott followed through on his veto, Spiller and the governor’s office (including Abbott’s wife, Cecilia) seemed to hit it off. In a thank you note, Spiller and the first lady acted like fast friends:
In an email written on June 3, the day after the governor announced his veto, Spiller sent a message to first lady Cecilia Abbott asking her to “please pass on my warmest regards and sincere thanks for upholding individual liberties and restoring my faith in our constitutional form of government.”
Spiller added a postscript: “I have not forgotten about your last message. Please consider yourself invited to our office, and any event we hold, any time.” He then asks to set up an “informal coffee … with a few close friends.”
Under Abbott’s short tenure, Texas has become a state defined by oxymorons. A public school system run by a homeschooler. A government kowtowed by anti-government zealots. And now a medical community led by an anti-medicine religious group. As Texas is the nation’s second largest state, it’s more than a little disconcerting that we continually find ourselves asking: “What’s the matter with Texas?”
Feature image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr