Friday, June 21, 2013

Dispatches from the Front Lines of Choice

Have you heard about HB60/SO5 in Texas? It's an omnibus anti-abortion bill which would limit abortion to 20 weeks or before and close 42 of the state's currently safe, licensed clinics, leaving just 5 for a population of 26 million. Many people in rural areas would have to drive even further than they already are, including commutes up to 8 hours. Because there are already waiting periods on the books here, many people in rural areas would now need to be able to arrange travel, accommodations, child care, etc. for 3-4 day trips into the state's major metropolitan areas for abortion services. And that's only if the pregnancy is even discovered in time.

Choice is currently abysmal here, but this would be devastating, especially on poor, rural, people of color. It's the equivalent of having whole other-state-sized regions without clinics.

I've kept an eye out on the local coverage through the Lilith Fund, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood. There have been several protests and hearings already this week. Last night there was a people's filibuster scheduled for HB60, specifically. People began arriving at the capital at 1 pm. I had to work until 6, so I figured I'd just keep up to date on it all via Twitter. When I finally logged on around 8:30 pm, I realized that people were just beginning to make their testimonies. I was really pulled in by what I was reading and I knew I couldn't sit on my couch all night.  I didn't want to testify, but I figured I could be there for support and help out in some way.

Fortunately, Mr. Nerdy Feminist was willing to drop me off and I was able to get in touch with my friend, who works in Planned Parenthood's community outreach department and would be there all night assisting testifiers. She told me that things would be going into the early morning and encouraged me to just come on down and jump in. Thankfully, I have a flexible job and was able to confirm that I could come in at 11 am today, so that I could at least catch a few hours of sleep.

When I got there around 9, I signed in as a non testifying witness in opposition to the bill. I helped my friend with a few tasks like getting email addresses, directing people to food, and answer questions the best I could. But mostly I listened to the people around me and offered my support.

It was an incredibly important, although tense, night. A vast majority of the approximately 700 people there were speaking in opposition to the bill. I was truly moved and humbled by the stories shared and I can't say enough how much I admire the many people who told their deeply personal stories to the committee.

I can't tell you how many times I had a lump in my throat.

Anti-choice committee chair Representative Byron Cook, did not handle things well. He was very short with prochoice speakers and cut things off a few times, calling the stories repetitive. Many people didn't get to speak at all. As has been widely reported, one woman, Lesli Simms (I know her!) pointed out in her testimony “Our words are not repetitive. Our government’s attacks on our choice, on our bodies, is repetitive.”

It's amazing how Representative Cook didn't seem to conclude that the testimony might be repetitive 
because there is not wide spread support for this legislation. Did that get through to him?

All in all the filibuster was successful and things are being punted to the next stages without a vote for now. It's also likely that the horrible way that the hearing was run will raise "points of order" and there would have to be a second hearing. (I will admit that I still don't fully understand Texas political processes, but I'm trying to learn.)

I just hope we can continue to stall until the special session ends Tuesday, without this bill passing.

Last night I tweeted, "I swear I will lose my shit if this passes and I see coastal liberals making 'yuk yuk ass backwards TX' comments. We so showed up tonight. We're fighting and trying. DO NOT erase that fact later because you weren't paying attention." I SO stand by that sentiment this morning. Last night was hands down one of the most moving, important nights of my life. I heard directly from people of all backgrounds, colors, gender expressions, and ages---but who were all Texans, just how important choice is to them. I used to be a northerner who thought Texas was some conservative cesspool of a joke. (And I was in equally conservative Indiana, what was a thinking?!) But I have come to learn, first hand, how passionate the people here are about their rights.

Please: Do not dismiss that with thoughtless jokes, especially if you live in a state where choice is a given, and you've never stood in a crowded chamber for 14 hours waiting to beg a committee to trust you to make decisions about your own body. 

I am so proud to have contributed to this effort in the very small way that I did. I'm so proud of the support that came from across the nation. (Pizzas from California, y'all!) I'm so proud of Representative Ferrar, the only friendly member of the committee, who stood up and apologized for the behavior of her cohorts, thanked us for being there after 4 am, and implored us to stay engaged and not be discouraged by the evening (we weren't!) I'm proud of Representative Howard who is not even on the committee, but stayed present until the very end, as a sign of her support and solidarity.

But mostly I'm proud of all the impassioned, brave Texans who stood up and told their stories. I'm so thankful for you, and just totally in awe.

No matter the outcome, this process was really important.

For more about the evening:

RH Reality Check
Think Progress

Update 1:30: Sad to report, HB60 just passed out of committee.

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