Inside the Capitol building
The Committee on State Affairs convened at the Capitol on Tuesday to hear testimony on HB2, the bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, as well as implement new regulations that would result in the closure of all but five of women’s health clinics in Texas. This bill was authored as an attempt to revive SB5, the bill that failed to pass the Senate after rockstar in pink sneakers, Wendy Davis found “ways to shut that whole thing down.” (Todd Akin reference, anyone?). So, the stakes aren’t high or anything.
Being from Boston and having gone to a liberal college in Ithaca, NY, I was and am not used to having to defend a women’s right to choose. Sure, there’s always the occasional crackpot calling for abortion restrictions that can’t hear his own hypocrisy over his shouts for limited government, but it wasn’t every anything I couldn’t handle.
As I walked in to the Capitol I quickly realized the mistake I made, I was wearing the wrong color! It was a blue versus orange match-up and I had literally chosen an all blue ensemble that looked more conservatively American than anything I usually wear. Of course, I came to the Capitol as a pro-choice supporter but also as an observer, since I hadn’t been at the capitol for the filibuster last week. I quickly felt the dichotomy and tried my hardest to commit every image to memory. I figured this day would be about the arguments, the reasons why a woman’s bodily autonomy should absolutely not be up for debate, especially not by a group of white men. But it turned out being a fight for the legitimacy of the democratic process — a fight no one was going to give up on easily, especially not Democratic Representatives Sylvester Turner and Jessica Farrar. It turned out not to be about pro-life or pro-choice but about the stifling of the voter’s voice by the very people elected to represent our interests. No matter what our political beliefs, we were all together in our fight against the silencing of democratic speech.
I walked through the corridors like a child on an Easter Egg hunt, as if I was going to find the answer to why this debate was even happening now, decades after Roe v. Wade. I prepared for being outraged by the pro-life arguments, such as the man who testified to represent himself and the “underserved population of men who have never gotten a say.” This man’s argument was that the selfish choice of women to have an abortion was unfair to men all over the country, that when his sister got an abortion he missed out on the opportunity to be an uncle. This is the problem. This is not about you being an uncle, sir, showing up on holidays and taking the kid out for ice cream on your day off from work. Are you going to take care of the child wholeheartedly when your sister gives birth? This is not about your right to be an uncle, you ill-informed, ignorant, redneck. So yeah, I guess I got a little outraged by some testimonies.
Hearing the heartfelt words of women sharing the guilt they felt after their abortions evokes more of an understanding in me. The thought of having an abortion scares the crap out of me. I think that’s what most pro-lifers don’t get. We are not anti-life. We are not pro-abortion. We represent both choices; we represent the ability to choose, to make decisions about your own body for yourself.
Waiting to enter auditorium
I made my way to the auditorium, one of nine overflow rooms offered to the public in order to watch the testimonies. There was clearly more orange shirts than blue in the auditorium. However, the projector showing the proceedings told a completely different story: all blue shirts sitting in the chamber, waiting to testify. The start of the testimonies should’ve made the tone of the session clear, but I remained hopeful that the voices of the many would pave way to understanding. Representative Turner politely interrupted Chairman Cook to ask why they were in such a small room for such an important gathering, involving the lives of so many Texans.
“Can we not use the auditorium?” He asked, as those around me in the auditorium started applauding uproariously.
“We wanted to ensure the maximum security for every person who is here,” said Cook, unapologetically, explaining also that they had already heard plenty of testimonies during the previous session. Hey, democracy isn’t free, people!
Rep. Laubenburg opened, introducing the bill she was sponsoring by continuously claiming that the bill’s intent was “to protect the health and safety of every woman who undergoes an abortion and protect the unborn.” But Turner wouldn’t let her off that easily, mostly because that wasn’t an acceptable answer to any of the question being posed.
He earnestly asked, what did she think about the bill effectively closing down all but five women’s health clinics in Texas. Rep. Laubenburg refused to acknowledge his “hypothetical futures”, saying there was no way to know that would happen. Turner points out the testimonies of hospitals stating that admitting privileges would not be granted to these doctors performing abortions, meaning any clinic that cannot get these privileges must shut down.
And Laubenburg stuck to her story, “this bill is intended to protect the health and safety of every woman who undergoes an abortion and protect the unborn.” (To which she was patted on the back by Cook as he said, good little Republican mouthpiece.) This was her mantra. Honest discourse did not seem like par for the course here. Laubenburg was making that painfully obvious.
Again, Turner tried to encourage democratic debate by elaborating on a possible amendment to this bill that would mandate the government to pay for these mandatory regulations about to be placed on abortion clinics throughout the state: “Would it be acceptable with in this bill that the state have a corresponding responsibility to provide funding?”
Part of Rep. Turner’s questioning of Rep. Laubenburg:
And this was where all pro-choicers blood began to boil. Because if this was about the improvement of women’s healthcare than the focus would be on providing these clinics with any means necessary to improve their standards. But it wasn’t. If it were about improving women’s healthcare than Lt. Governor David Dewhurst wouldn’t have excitedly tweeted a picture of a map showing all the clinics that would be shut down by the passing of this legislature like a little boy about to win a game of checkers. It was about the improvement of women’s healthcare Rick Perry wouldn’t have started the battle cry that the louder us women yell in protest against the bill, the more him and republicans know they know it will pass. If it were about women’s healthcare than the bill’s author, Laubenburg would have known what a rape kit was.
Bill supporters post up outside in front of news camera to read bible passages
Laubenburg made it clear it was not about the improvement of women’s health care when she stated repeatedly she likes the bill the way it is and would not see it amended. I wish I could defend an idea at work by claiming, “well, I really like it this way.” Representatives Farrar and Mendez joined Turner in questioning Laubenburg’s true intentions.
Mendez voiced his concerns that they are “creating a standard that can’t be met by mandating something hospitals won’t do.”
Farrar brought up the lack of language including mental health exclusions. In some cases, she claims, a woman is on medication to regulate her mood and her psychiatric health, however, this medication may be known to cause serious birth defects or an unhealthy environment for the baby. Democrats then illustrated to Laudenburg the reality of the decision she is then forcing a woman to make: Maintain her own sanity or the health of her baby.
“She has five months to decide that,” Laubenburg answered, to the hisses and outbursts of our crowded auditorium.
Sitting in the auditorium watching the live feed on a huge projector was as if we were all out at a bar watching a basketball game. It was a back and forth of applause for each side, the orange shirts always clapping harder, more passionately, so much so that if this was a game, it would appear we were winning. We had no idea how wrong we were.
The scene from inside the auditorium
The testimonies started and finally the people this bill would affect got a chance to plead their case. Some of these arguments were so eloquent that I was so in the moment I forgot to record. Some were not so eloquent, such as a one testimony by a representative of Chicanos Por La Causa which described individual abortions as “Holocausts.” This cringeworthy comparison elicited an audible gasp in the auditorium.
One women brought up one of the most logical inconsistencies within the pro-life movement: “If this battle was about the sanctity of life we’d be talking about outlawing the death penalty. This is about the controlling of girls and women.” Texas is the leading state for death penalty executions. Go big or go home, I guess, right?
A former staff member of the Texas House came to testify against the bill:
The closing of the testimonies came with a well-articulated argument from Rep. Turner about the unconstitutionality of the bill. He claimed as part of the Supreme Court ruling, undue restrictions on abortions are unconstitutional and if it is likely that abortion access will be restricted by this bill then it is by definition, unconstitutional. But his argument fell on deaf republican ears. Rep. Farrar tried to fight for the remaining people waiting to testify, stating that the record would not indicate those that were present at the building because more supporters of the bill were called to testify and there was a clear majority of orange shirts at the capitol.
Chairman Cook’s floundering would be comical if didn’t hold so much power. Not only did he have people whispering the pronunciations of names he couldn’t properly articulate in his ear, he blatantly spoke through testimonies he didn’t agree with. He overtly allowed more time for pro-lifers to make their way to the podium and was less inclined to cut them off when their time ran out.
Protestor outside as testimonies were being heard
At the closing, when Farar voiced concerns about the unfairness of the proceedings the chamber broke out in applause, leading Cook to bang his gavel and demand no outbreaks. She refused to back down, stating he had allowed outbreaks from the other side just moments before. It was as if we were in the twilight zone. I often thought, does his hearing aid not work or something?
The record is not going to reflect the people who are here. It’s not fair and I think this speaks ill of the process.”
Both Turner and Farrar fought for the right of each person to have their voice heard despite what side they were on. Republicans sided with Cook, saying it was passed 12:01 and he was no longer required to hear testimony. But Rep. Turner was not going down without a fight, turning to Laubenburg with a series of perfectly executed questions:
Tell me where does pro-life start and stop? When a child is born and we no longer fight for their quality existence?
When I go to my district and I see children who are struggling and I listen to all of this testimony, what do I say to kids I see every day? What do I say to them?
These are kids that are here on the face of the earth walking every single day that we see. So is our love greater for those that we don’t see and less for those that we see every day that have already been born?
That’s the disconnect that I have. That’s my disconnect. As a Christian, that’s my tension with this issue and those who advocate for it. Because these are kids that we see. I can bring them up here and put them in front of us.
Why does it seem as though it stops when a child is born and walking on the face of the earth? And they need things, quality things, in order to reach their full potential?”
Laubenburg reply to this was that she and Rep. Turner both know she cares about children living and unborn. And with that, the session was called to a close amidst continuing protests from Democratic Representatives, pleading for the allowance of further testimonies. Only about 100 of the more than 2,000 people waiting to testify got the chance. Then a vote was to be called.
Turner cried out that he had asked if a vote was going to be held that night and that he wanted a chance to bring up amendments.
“You can bring it up on the (House) floor,” Cook said.
Turner responded angrily, “You know that’s just wrong!”
The vote was 8-3 in favor of the bill, which is now on its’ way to becoming law. (Check out the bill’s timeline here).
Most people believed this fight to be over after watching the triumphant Wendy Davis filibuster her way into history. What Wendy taught us was important,though: when you have your constituents, the general public, and most importantly, Texas women behind you, you can and will make history. And this is what I have to believe because after leaving the Capitol yesterday, I watched the courage and determination of each person who testified culminate in the complete and utter disregard for the democratic process by Chairman Cook and other Republican representatives.
By the end of the day I was pretty much in tears, wondering how this could have happened. Rep. Turner was right. Rep. Farar was right. This was a “farce.” How is it possible to argue that your bill’s intention is to promote the escalation of healthcare for Texas women by improving abortion clinic standards when the very supporters of the bill testify an all-out effort to ban abortion all together?
It’s funny that when we stand up for our rights we are called an unruly mob using Obama-style guerilla tactics to get our way — I’m not quite sure but I believe that act of protestation was invented and utilized before Obama came into office. Is democracy not about the will of the people? I would like to (seriously) say to this committee, with great power comes great responsibility. If you wish to serve this large population, it is your job to hear every last voice. If you are serving our interests, then act interested in our voices. Don’t dismiss us. You are nothing without the people that elect you. And if you thought the battle cry of Texas women has been overwhelming, wait till November. Wait till the voices you have silenced are heard through their votes.
This isn’t old Texas anymore.
We are younger, we believe in limited government not when it serves as a way to increase the profit of large corporations but when it enables individuals the liberties they were promised in the constitution. I’m on to you, Republicans. You think by pushing through bills to restrict our rights, like the voter identification bill you slipped through the legislature like seconds after the Supreme Court ruled on the Voting Rights Act, that you can stop our democratic voice from being heard. You guys turn into super, transparently undemocratic babies when you don’t get your way, huh? Why would you want to make it harder for people to vote? Oh, that’s right! Because the non-white population is growing so fast in Texas that projections show the state turning blue sometime in the very near future.
Well, I’m sorry Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Byron Cook and all the others that seek to silence our voices, you’ve had a long run but your time will run out. Our “mob” will be heard, and when it is, you may be wishing the only fight up for debate was a women’s right to choose. Democracy will always win.
Note: Once uploaded, I will be providing videos of some of testimonies, hold tight!