Texas gets a bad rap, and sometimes (I admit it) with good reason. I mean, this week a number of state legislators gathered in the capitol rotunda with a cake to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Texas' discriminatory same-sex marriage ban; Texans were literally honoring a decade of legalized bigotry toward other Texans with a party. Not so good.
But there are also countless Texans who make negative assessments of Texas seem unfair -- for example, Gene Novogrodsky, a 76-year-old Brownsville man who is biking 300 miles to raise money for Planned Parenthood. Novogrodsky's ride, which he's calling the "Spirit of '76," is in honor of both his birthday and Planned Parenthood of South Texas, which turns the same age this year. The Huffington Post reports:
The ride ... has already raised more than $8,600 in donations for the Planned Parenthood clinics in Brownsville and Harlingen, two underserved areas in the Rio Grande Valley. He plans to arrive in San Antonio next Tuesday.
Novogrodsky, a longtime civil rights advocate and instructor at the University of Texas at Brownsville, said he is riding to raise awareness of dwindling women's healthcare access in Texas. His wife, Ruth, works at the Brownsville Planned Parenthood health center.
"I don't feel that this is heroic," Novogrodsky told The Huffington Post. "I'd rather be doing something else. I can't believe we're talking about women's reproductive rights in 2015 in Texas."
Huge swaths of Texas -- especially Novogrodsky's home in the Rio Grande Valley -- have had access to reproductive healthcare dramatically limited in recent months, thanks to a package of antiabortion laws that shut down more than a dozen clinics and forced others to stop providing abortion care. Over the past several years, Texas has also slashed budgets for family planning, in addition to making basic healthcare, such as cancer screenings, nearly impossible to access for many of the state's low-income residents. For thousands of Texans who live in the Rio Grande Valley, Panhandle and West Texas -- areas that have been hit hardest by clinic closures, and are among the state's poorest -- the nearest abortion clinic could be 300 miles away.
And that's why Novogrodsky is biking that same distance from Brownsville to San Antonio: because it's a distance so many of his fellow Texans will have to traverse, often at great financial and emotional cost. And for him, that's personal.
"I have daughters, I have a wife," he told HuffPost. "These issues are important to me because I care about the health and well-being of my family."