Texas Activist Reports: The Abortion Rights Struggle Continues

A Libertarian-leaning Republican, an anarchist, a Democrat, and a Democratic Socialist walk into a bar... Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but Texas politics make strange bedfellows, and last week, I found myself joining with a diverse group  of people to fight the anti-woman legislation being snuck into a special legislative session. 

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By now, the whole country knows about Texas Senator Wendy Davis and her courageous 12-hour filibuster, which was finished by a true “citizen’s filibuster” by activists in the gallery who were fed up with the flouting of rules on the floor of the Senate. As the crowd in the gallery howled, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst lost control of the floor and was unable to count the vote on the draconian abortion bill being debated. We rejoiced that the bill was defeated.

 But almost immediately, Governor Rick Perry called another special session, and added the same bill to the agenda. It passed the House and Senate, and the governor is expected to sign it.

 Anti-choice activists insist that the bill, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks on the baseless assertion that fetal pain begins at that stage, is only targeting late-term abortions, and they profess (somewhat disingenuously) not to understand why we are fighting them so hard on it. After all, they reason, if someone can’t decide in five months whether to terminate a pregnancy, well, then, what can you do with someone that indecisive?  Of course, those of us paying attention realize that the 20-week ban, although based on bad science and unconstitutional,* is not the most dangerous part of this bill. That is a red herring to distract from the real danger this legislation poses.

 Under SB1, 37 of the 43 abortion clinics in the state of Texas will close. There are provisions in the bill requiring that clinics be upgraded to ambulatory surgical centers and that doctors who perform the procedure must have hospital admitting privileges. The cost of upgrading the clinics ($400,000 or more per clinic), combined with the unlikelihood that hospitals are unlikely to open up themselves to liability by allowing doctors admitting privileges, would mean that most clinics outside of the major metropolitan cities like Houston, Dallas and Austin would have to close. Women in rural areas would have to drive for hours to get to a clinic.  The financial cost of the travel, time off work, and accommodations would place such obstacles before Texas women seeking treatment as to be almost insurmountable. Which, of course, is the goal of the legislation.

 This sneaky attempt to circumvent our constitutional rights has been disheartening, but the proverbial silver lining of the cloud has been the grassroots activism that has arisen, from groups as varied and disparate as I mentioned initially. In the hours after Rick Perry announced that he would be calling another special session, my self-identified Republican friend created a Facebook page called “Kill the Bill 2,” with a photoshopped image of Wendy Davis as the Bride from Tarantino’s flick Kill Bill, calling for a rally at the capitol on July 1, the start of the new session. We invited our friends, who invited their friends, and so on, and by the fourth day, over 7,000 people had RSVPed to our rally, catching us by surprise.

 NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Lilith Fund and the Travis County Democrats began to plan an even more elaborate rally to follow ours, and another group began to plan a march for later that evening. A group called Rise Up Texas began to do training on civil disobedience. Local screen printers began churning out “Stand With Texas Women” shirts by the thousands, donating half the proceeds to Planned Parenthood and the Texas Democratic Party. Red Rabbit Donuts, a worker cooperative, donated 100 percent of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood when people ordered donuts to be delivered to the pro-choice activists at the capitol.

 The rally was truly multi-generational, culturally diverse, deliberately inclusive and all Texan. Our speakers were Texan, a local Austin band provided the music, and the crowd was overwhelmingly Texan, with people driving in from as far away as El Paso and Brownsville.  Our opponents insist that we have bused in pro-choice activists from other states to swell our numbers, which is untrue. In a display of staggering hypocrisy, it later came to light that Mike Huckabee and other pro-life figures would be traveling from around the nation to come to Austin July 8 for a “prayer rally,” even as the national pro-life group Students for Life recruited college students from Washington, D.C., to descend upon Austin the same day.

 As well, these out-of-state visitors are registering to speak in the Senate and House committee meetings, although they are not residents of Texas. I personally witnessed an anti-choice family registering their four infants and toddlers to “testify” against the bill, essentially allowing parents with children a number of votes equal to the number of children with them.

 As scared as I am of losing my rights, I am incredibly proud of my fellow Texans who have survived on almost no sleep and on donated pizza and doughnuts for the last two weeks to maintain a constant presence at the state capitol building. The lawmakers thought they could sneak this through with no one noticing, but they were sorely mistaken. We noticed, we are fighting tooth and nail, and we will remember this in the next elections.

 Of course, as a democratic socialist, my goals are a little different from those of most of my fellow travelers here at the Texas Capitol. I want to see free or low-cost contraceptives and abortions on demand and to remove the stigma from so-called “elective” abortions. The fight for reproductive justice doesn’t end with abortion rights or access to contraceptives, either. We have to fight for affordable childcare and social support programs for women and children so that women who do want to raise a child can be supported in their effort, just as women who do not want children must have the right to make that decision unencumbered by financial or legal considerations. While most of my comrades at the capitol might not share all of my goals as a socialist, we are happy to stand together with Texas women for this fight. I’ve never been so proud to be a Texan as when I looked out on the sea of orange shirts on the capitol grounds last Monday and saw so many of my fellow Texans fighting for my right to bodily autonomy and reproductive choices.

 

[1] The 1973 Supreme Court decision in the famous Roe v. Wade case grants women the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy until the fetus is viable.  Viability guidelines currently set viability at 24 weeks, a full month later than the 20-week ban would permit, making this a sneaky attempt to circumvent Roe v. Wade and force a reassessment of the long-standing 24-week guideline.

 

Christina Huizar is an activist in the Young Democratic Socialists.

Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

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· 51 rsvps

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Full film available on Vimeo.

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DSA New Member Orientation Call

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