The Long View

When I started writing this, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, had been standing for over 8 hours and was running short of “germane” material in her filibuster,  previous passed bills regarding abortion – Roe v. Wade and the trans-vaginal ultrasound requirement – having been ruled by the Republican-controlled State Senate as “not germane” to the topic. 

A second special session was called and came with an early introduction of HB2 (to frustrate further filibusters). The bill passed and Governor Perry signed it with a flourish of self-righteous rhetoric. It will be challenged in the courts and likely be struck down as an unconstitutional – an excessive burden (similar laws in other states have met the same fate).  One upside to this whole mess: the galvanization of Texas’ politically dormant youth, who have found their reproductive freedom on the electoral auctioning block. Another: Wendy Davis is running for Governor of Texas. 

 

The threat of a wire coat hanger has reappeared in my lifetime.

I did not expect to move backward. Or be forced backward, more accurately. I thought, erroneously, that gained ground – that ground – was so intrinsically linked to the idea of American freedom that it was unassailable to rallying political rhetoric. It would be like advocating for a return to slavery, I thought. But then, I am in Texas.

They are calling for our stories and I don’t have one.  I’ve never faced that decision. Through luck and medicine, or rocky biology, I’ve avoided that condition. And I’m grateful. And I can’t imagine imposing my choice on anyone else – or the hubris of people who would.

Senator Davis stands in pink tennis shoes, speaking. Stuck at work, I catch moments of the live stream from my phone.

Now Republicans are claiming a third strike on Davis, effectively ending her filibuster at 11 hours.

I’m outraged at Republican attempts to derail the filibuster by labeling Roe v. Wade “not germane” to the issue. Not germane? How is that possible?

People are outraged in the Gallery too;  the spectators there are shouting, hooting, screaming. The filibuster is over, and even though Senator Watson has displayed deft and comprehensive skill with legislative rules, and even though Senator Van Putte has refused to be brushed away like a fly, they have called a vote.  But they can’t hear the results. It’s chaos on the floor. For twenty minutes the Gallery echoes back the cacophonous anger of those who have been forced silent for too long.

They cannot hear themselves over the voices of the people.  How appropriate.

So now they try to change the time stamp and persuade us the bill passed. They complain of the uncivil conduct of the crowd while Dewhurst threatens a videotape review and potential arrests of the “unruly mob.” And now they backtrack to explain that a changed timestamp is a common procedure. Governor Perry calls for a second special session to finish the business of the first: SB5 is now HB2, but it is the same religious prescription for Texas women.

“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights.” – Thomas Jefferson

“These violent delights have violent ends,” Shakespeare reminds us, but we don’t always listen.

The crowd I’m a part of raises fists and issues chants. News is spread in concussive bursts: the repetition of a few words shouted down the corridor to reach us, like an echo that changes pitch and speed. Old-school tactics for communication, telegraph-like: “Arrests are being made.” Stop. “In the Gallery.” Stop. “They have closed.” Stop. “The Capitol.” Stop. “Don’t go outside.”

“This is what Democracy looks like!”  We scream it at closed doors.

Someone holds aloft an iPad that scrolls a message: “Keep Yelling! We can hear you! It is keeping us from falling apart in the Gallery.”

The Gallery above the Senate: where observers cannot make a sound or a gesture without risk of expulsion.

I am with Heather, on the staircase east of the rotunda, where orange shirts dominate. They’ve dominated all along, these voices for reproductive freedom, individual choice, and women’s health – though they have not been allowed to dominate a legislative discussion where conscientious lawmakers give blue shirts priority to speak.

Don’t think that all those in orange are necessarily Democrats. At the July 1st rally I met Ben Corwin, an economics student at Texas State University in San Marcos and a Republican. Disgusted by the evidence of government overreach, he started the “Kill the Bill” movement with fellow classmates. He told me the second special session was costing taxpayers $30,000 a day.

That isn’t a typo: $30,000 a day.

It seems that traditional conservatives are offended by such intrusive government action. Yet the applause from the blue-shirted evangelicals representing the anti-choice contingent celebrates it.

I don’t want to disparage them too much: they feel passionately about this issue, just as I do from the other side (as a member of Dewhurst’s “unruly mob”). I think the people who support this bill genuinely suffer pain over the reality of abortion.

But the remedy they endorse with HB2 (SB5, pre-filibuster) will not stop abortion. It will not better the lives of the women or children it affects. It will compromise women’s health and lead to deaths, however unintentional, as desperate women seek a remedy for a desperate situation.

Here is the hypocrisy: the same people who want to outlaw abortion don’t want anyone to have the information or means to avoid getting pregnant. But you don’t get to gag comprehensive sex education in school and defund family planning and access to birth control then beat your chest and cry about the tragedy of abortion – because you’ve done nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancy. That’s not pro-life; it’s just pro-conception.

So let’s be honest. Let’s be serious. Let’s talk about what HB2 really will do.

As a result of HB2, 37 of the 42 clinics that provide abortion services in Texas will likely have to shut down because they will be unable to meet the surgical center standards (and redundant hospital admitting privileges) required by the bill. These are clinics that primarily address family planning and birth control as well as offering women who lack health insurance access to gynocological and breast cancer screening exams. This aspect of HB2 is directed to shut down Planned Parenthood Centers which offer abortions but primarily provide contraception, STD testing and treatment, and cancer screening and prevention (see chart).

These clinics will get no help from the state in making the expensive upgrades necessary to remain open (an unfunded mandate targeted to kill clinics that provide a wide range of health care and family planning services for lower-income and uninsured women and their families). The five clinics that remain open in the second largest state will be in the major cities that are central-eastern: one each for Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, and two in Houston. Women seeking safe abortions will have to travel farther at greater expense and pay more for the procedure – all unnecessarily, since all the clinics that provide abortions must currently meet and follow the Texas Medical Board’s standard safety regulations.

Women who seek to terminate an unwanted pregnancy will no longer have access to the abortion pill because HB2 prohibits nurse practitioners from dispensing RU 486 (an abortion-inducing drug) at clinics. Instead, women will be required to see a licensed physician and undergo an examination to determine that the fetus is under the new 20 week gestation limit (specified as “fertilization” in the bill). And the very constraints enacted by HB2 would make it more difficult for a woman to meet that deadline (Texas women must already submit to a trans-vaginal ultrasound and a 24-hour pre-abortion waiting period after consultation and prior to the procedure).

Look at the statistics that show, world-wide, that outlawing abortion doesn’t stop women from ending unwanted pregnancies but does prevent them from doing so safely. Prior to legal abortion, women in the United States resorted to illegal procedures that endangered their health and their lives.

“These violent delights…”

What is the goal here? Is this about punishment, these restrictions?  There seems to be a pleasure  – self-righteous, to be sure – in administering both judgment and consequence for behavior, with a nodding sympathy for “victims” (cases of incest, “legitimate” rape, or imminent death) who are – this time – excused.

Does it make a difference that is it men (mostly) enacting these laws against women? Absolutely. Note: though a woman “wrote” the bill – in this case meaning she introduced it and it bears her name – she was unconvincing in reading it (largely because she couldn’t pronounce some of the more technical language) and her performance when questioned over the content of the bill was so embarrassing that she was quickly sequestered and more masculine voices took over.

Am I surprised? No. Cast back to Clayton William’s rape analogy and read current disparaging comments about Wendy Davis to get a feel for the enduring atmosphere of Texas political misogyny (yes, we had Ann Richards, but she often posed with a gun, and her language and vernacular were as good ole boy as it gets; she knew how to play Texas politics).

Am I disheartened? No. Because I witnessed an opportunity for change and an uprising:  young women who had perhaps previously been unaware of the orchestrated assault on their freedom became suddenly alert, wary, outraged and mobilized. They are activists now. They take nothing for granted.  For them it is not about a reappearance of the wire coat hanger but an initiation into what could be their reality if they won’t speak out against those who would profess to speak for them and stand up against those who would dictate their choices for the rest of their lives.

“…have violent ends.”

“Violence” is a fluid term. So is “delight.” They seem sometimes almost complimentary, and interchangeable. Much like “opportunity” and “uprising.”

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