Update: After many hours of protest by hundreds of pro-choice Texans, early Monday morning Texas lawmakers gave preliminary approval to the abortion restrictions being considered during the state legislature’s special session. Watch Rewire for more reporting on this story later today.
Covering Texas politics as a feminist journalist, one of the things I hear a lot is: Why don’t you leave? What else do you expect … it’s Texas?
To those people, I say this: I see your smugness. It is a sign of passivity and privilege. And it is dangerous.
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Right now, I’m sitting in the Texas State Capitol’s house gallery, surrounded by hundreds of Texans wearing orange shirts in support of reproductive rights, here to protest an omnibus anti-choice bill that would shut down all but five abortion clinics in the state, ban abortions after 20 weeks, and make medical abortions all but impossible to prescribe or obtain legally.
If some of that sounds familiar, I want you to remember what happened in the United States House of Representatives this week: that body launched an attack on our bodies, passing a 20-week abortion ban.
It’s no accident or coincidence that so-called flyover states have passed highly restrictive abortion bills in advance of Congress’ vote. That’s part of the plan. Anti-choice politicians and activists have been working for years to reduce access to abortion in red states where they know they’ll find little opposition from friendly legislators looking to ramp up the war on women.
Texas is not a throw-away state full of throw-away people who can be shrugged off with a contemptuous, “Well, what do you expect?” Texas is not an outlier. Texas is a test case for right-wingers with their eyes on the coasts and, as Congress showed this week, Washington, D.C.
Three days ago, hundreds of pro-choice activists slammed a House State Affairs committee with just 24 hours’ notice, sending committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook into a full-fledged fluster as he tried to shut them out and shut them up.
Organizers expected this people’s filibuster to be a Hail Mary pass. Instead, it became a rallying cry for Texans who have, for years, felt ignored by Republican and Tea Party legislators who listen only to a handful of anti-science, anti-choice, anti-medicine Bible-thumpers, and who have been wholly disenfranchised by an openly racist redistricting system that explicitly sought to exclude people of color from voting in meaningful numbers for their representatives.
Indeed, I think we can forgive Texans for being a little meek when their anti-choice (“pro-life”) representatives straight up threaten them with guns for holding opposing views.
Despite all that, Texans are here at their state capitol today, undeterred and ready for an all-night fight for reproductive freedom. I just heard that donors from across the country have ordered pizza delivered to overflow rooms, and local coffee shops are offering up Texas-sized to-go containers in solidarity.
So if you ask me, “What do you expect? It’s Texas,” I’ll tell you that what I expect is 700 people, packed into the capitol building on a Sunday, hugging and crying and chanting because they have had enough. I expect to be unable to walk through the airy, bright Capitol rotunda because it is packed, wall to wall, with people holding hands and holding “My body, my choice!” signs, within sight of Gov. Ann Richards’ portrait.
If Texas is a hopeless bastion of bumpkins, stocked from the Rio Grande to the Red River with disposable citizens too stupid to know what’s good for them, then I am proud to be sitting among the best of them this afternoon.