July 29th, 2013
How do you wrap up the past month succinctly in one blog post? It seems the near impossible, and yet, that is what I’ve heard in a lot of my time as a political organizer, especially with unions: It’s impossible. The general apathy of the average person has grown to great heights in Texas. We can’t beat them, so we shouldn’t even try. It’s impossible.
It’s important to explore the bill and the issue in question and what is truly at stake for Texas women and their families, because despite what Republican and Democratic supporters of these bills say, this bill does anything but protect women’s health. In fact, this bill takes a proverbial sledgehammer to safe and affordable care that millions of Texas women currently access on a daily basis and, what’s worse, takes what should be a private and emotional decision between a woman and her doctor and places our legislature squarely in the middle of it. Coming from a group of people that largely protest big government interfering with our daily lives, it’s hard to imagine anything more intrusive or hypocritical.
Among other things that this bill does is:
Ban abortion after 20 weeks. The 20 week marker important because:
- most women don’t have their major ultrasound until their 20th week to determine if there are any fatal fetal abnormalities or birth defects
- the 20th week ultrasound being instrumental in determining the need for an amnioscientist
- current federal law provides an additional 4 weeks, banning abortion after the 24th week.
- the ban includes all abortions, except those that would “avert the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”
- the vast majority of those abortions that take place after the 20 week marker are due largely to the mother’s health or the health of the fetus, this makes the situation have to be a dire one before a doctor can act.
States that despite irrefutable conflicting medical testimony from prestigious universities and association that a 20 week fetus feels pain:
- determined by one non-peer reviewed medical study out of the University of Arkansas’s Medical School
- is contrary to evidence presented against this bill from the Journal of the American Medical Association and Harvard Medical School, among other prestigious medical associations and schools
Mandates that a doctor that performs abortions in his or her own clinic have privileges at a hospital to perform abortions within a thirty mile distance despite testimony that it would be near impossible for many doctors to obtain them:
- The Texas Hospital Association’s Associate Council testified in every single House State Affairs Committee meeting that this particular part of the bill would be troubling, not just for the doctors that perform the procedures in clinics across the states, but for the hospitals that would have to provide privileges to them
- No other outpatient procedure performed at a clinic requires that a doctor have privileges at a hospital to perform it and the problem is that this requirement opens up hospitals to liability that they will not undertake.
- In effect, this portion of the bill basically makes it impossible to obtain an abortion in the state of Texas
Requires that all current clinics upgrade their current facilities to Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC):
- despite the fact that there have been no deaths from the already heavily regulated clinics
- a requirement that will reduce the number of clinics in this state from 42 to 5
- will eliminate any clinics operating west of Austin
- women in the valley will have an undue burden in making a choice to terminate their pregnancy, as will poorer women
- the cost of the upgrades to the facilities will mean that this procedure alone, that is not covered by federal or state dollars will triple.
- also requires that the two necessary doses of the early term abortion pill, RU-486 be dispensed by a medical doctor in an ASC, regardless of the fact that this is not a surgical procedure (Currently, the first dose is dispensed at the clinic, by medical staff, which can include a nurse, instead of a doctor and the second dose taken at home, where a woman can make herself comfortable in her own surroundings, rather than in an impersonal, sterile and cole surgical center.
- also means that a woman who has already traveled from her home to a clinic out of her way, will have to miss additional time from work and will have to afford an additional night’s stay at a hotel, or, even worse, in her car, as is already occurring, as a result of the sonogram law that went into effect after the 82nd Legislative Session in 2011.
In short, what this bill will do is to greatly reduce the number of safe and legal abortions in this state. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst himself stated that the goal was to close clinics that perform abortions in one of his tweets during the first special session. This bill will directly affect women, because when they can’t seek a safe, legal and affordable abortion, they will seek out two different options:
- Go to Mexico to have the procedure
- An illegal abortion, either performed by themselves from information obtained online or from a doctor that is far from reputable
With all of these restrictions and detriments to women’s health, it’s easy to see why this bill originally failed during the regular session. Texas’s Special Session was designed to circumvent some of the normal 2/3rds majority rules, in order to get necessary laws past for the security of the state. It’s that requirement, that anything brought up during a special session must be something that is an emergency situation necessary to the state that confused many people when Governor Perry added “abortion” to the first Special Session call on June 11th, far later than the Special Session was originally called.
It was that delay that made the first special session extraordinary. If they were hoping that the delay would mean that the issue would go unnoticed by the very people this bill would affect, they were mistaken. The opposite happened and 700 people showed up to testify for the scheduled House State Affairs Committee meeting, a good majority of them opposed to the bill.
Who knows where we would be, had Chairman of that Committee, Representative Byron Cook not stated that the three minute testimonies of mostly women discussing the most personal and emotional decision that they had ever made were “repetitive” or, had he not abruptly stated that testimony, which began roughly around 4 p.m. was going to be cut off at midnight, leaving hundreds who had stayed hours to testify without a voice. Whatever the catalyst, it was in those moments that it was born: this desire to make our voices heard.
What has happened in Texas is true democracy at work: a large group of people coming together to work for a specific goal. No one group has truly been in charge, even though traditional women’s organizations, like NARAL and Planned Parenthood led the charge during the regular Legislative Session and did the heavy lifting throughout this effort. Even more remarkably, a large portion of this effort grew organically out of social media, particularly through Facebook and Twitter, with everyday activists taking the lead in organizing and mobilizing a large amount of people to the Capitol on a daily and much needed basis.
That mobilization directly affected our State Representatives and Senators. State Representative Jessica Farrar came down to the Legislative Conference Center on Sunday night, when the House Democrats who were opposed to this bill were battling furiously to keep the bill from ending up in the Senate within the 24 hours that is required to hear the bill before the end of session and told many of us that us just being there made our State Representatives want to fight harder. Making our voice heard was helping our State Reps want to make their voices carry even further, fight harder, and even more remarkably, State Senator Sylvia Garcia said that our orange shirts, the colour that those of us against the bill wore to state our opposition publicly, made a difference to Senator Wendy Davis, even as she was filibustering on the Senate floor.
There were many times over the past month that the sheer fight could have been too much. “We live in a red state” or “it’s going to be law no matter what you do” could have defeated us,and yet, if I had to use one word to describe this past month, it’s hopeful.
Hopeful that delaying the bill enough would get us media exposure (it did). Hopeful that delaying the bill would give us more time to organize and form long-term bonds for the battle ahead(it did). Hopeful that more Texans would realize that they weren’t alone, that people were willing to fight, if they were willing to join us (it did). Hopeful that being sent back to the Capitol for special session after special session had meaning (it did). For the first time in a long time, definitely since I decided to put the focus of my professional life on politics, I witnessed history in this state. I witnessed a group of citizens coming together and working and fighting for something they truly believed in. I witnessed what I tell everyone I come into contact with is possible: that if you work together, you can do the impossible.
What I witnessed didn’t make me sad when they finally rammed this bill through during a second special session; rather it made me hopeful. Hopeful that maybe, just maybe, when we shook the pink marble and granite Capitol building on Tuesday, June 25th, the same night that Senator Wendy Davis stood for over 13 hours and captivated a nation, that our efforts acted as a defibrillator straight into the heart of Texas.