News Abortion

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis Continues One-Woman Filibuster of Anti-Abortion Bill

Andrea Grimes

As of 6:15 p.m. CST, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis was nearly seven hours into a one-woman filibuster that's expected to last until midnight as she holds up legislation that would decimate access to safe, legal abortion in Texas.

See all our coverage of SB 5 here.

As of about 6:15 p.m. CST, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis was nearly seven hours into a one-woman filibuster that’s expected to last until midnight as she holds up legislation that would decimate access to safe, legal abortion in Texas. Wearing orange and pink sneakers, she began speaking at 11:18 a.m. CST Tuesday. She cannot sit, lean, eat, drink, or take a bathroom break—to do so would mean yielding the floor and giving her Republican colleagues the opportunity to pass SB 5, the omnibus anti-abortion access bill that would reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas to just five.

As the state senate came to order Tuesday morning, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the president of the senate, recognized Davis at her desk. Did she intend to speak today?

“Yes, Mr. President,” she said. “I intend to speak for an extended period of time on the bill.” She continued, as nearly 500 people, the vast majority wearing orange t-shirts, vests, and even pants, looked on from the gallery above: “Members, I’m rising on the floor today to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored.”

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Orange has become the de facto color of reproductive freedom in Texas, as hundreds of citizens have descended upon the state capitol for the third time in six days to speak out against SB 5. Many have arrived in carpools from hours away, in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and the Rio Grande Valley. Many have arrived with their children in tow. They’ve spent the afternoon queued at the senate chamber doors and around the capitol rotunda, hoping someone gives up a seat inside the senate chamber so that they can see history in action.

Texas state Senator Wendy Davis

Texas state Senator Wendy Davis (Patrick Michels / TexasObserver.com)

Davis is running out the clock on the Texas legislature’s special session, initially called so that legislators could address redistricting issues after a federal court ruled gerrymandered districts unconstitutional. But Republican Gov. Rick Perry added abortion-related legislation to the special session calendar, knowing that Republican legislators could rush through bills that had no chance in the regular session thanks to the suspension of the “two-thirds rule.” That rule requires a bill to garner the approval of two-thirds of the Texas senate in order to be brought to the floor; without that rule in place, with Democrats at a numerical disadvantage, Republicans are in a prime position to bully their favored bills onto the floor.

Davis opened with a few remarks of her own before moving on to read letters from the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all of which oppose SB 5 on the grounds that it would put Texans’ health in danger, forcing them to seek illegal abortions and putting unnecessary and onerous burdens on physicians and health-care providers. She followed with unheard testimony from last Thursday’s “people’s filibuster” at the State Affairs Committee, which saw state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) cut off hundreds of Texans hoping to testify in favor of reproductive rights.

Then Davis took questions from state Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), a general practitioner and abortion opponent, who pressed her on issues regarding ambulatory surgical centers, as well as Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), an anti-choice Democrat, who said his Christian faith drove him to support the bill.

Republicans became restless just after 5:00 p.m. CST as GOP senators raised inquiries about the relevance of Davis’ ongoing remarks. State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) raised an inquiry with Lt. Gov. Dewhurst when Davis began talking about contraception and other services provided by Planned Parenthood that would help Texans avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Nichols said he didn’t believe “alternatives to abortion are related” to SB 5. And that kind of reasoning, really, is how Republicans got us here in the first place.

Culture & Conversation Abortion

The Burden Is Undue: What I Have Learned and Unlearned About Abortion

Madeline Gomez

For all 29 years of my life, the right to abortion has been under attack. In early March, I slept at the Supreme Court overnight, waiting for oral arguments, and had time to reflect on the experiences that have made me an advocate.

Thirteen years before I was born, the Supreme Court declared abortion a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade. Despite this, for all 29 years of my life, the right to abortion has been under attack.

In the past six years alone, states have enacted 288 provisions restricting access to abortion care. Three years ago, the Texas state legislature enacted HB 2, an omnibus anti-abortion bill. And on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled two provisions of that law are unconstitutional.

I am a Texas native, a Latina, a lawyer, and a reproductive justice advocate, so this case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, naturally hits close to home.

In the years since HB 2 has passed, I have heard from friends who have waited weeks and been forced to drive hours just to get an appointment at a clinic. And, as my colleagues and I wrote in an amicus brief the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health filed with the Supreme Court, women of color in Texas, particularly the 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age, have been disproportionately affected by the clinic closings resulting from the expensive, onerous, and medically unnecessary standards HB 2 imposed. For example, if the law had been allowed to go into full effect, residents of my birthplace, El Paso, Texas, where 81 percent of the population is Latinx, would have to drive over 500 miles to San Antonio in order to get an abortion in the state.

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In early March, I slept at the Court overnight, waiting for oral arguments. In the 24 hours I spent outside the Court, I had time to reflect on the experiences that have made me an advocate.

***

I am 12, with my mother and her dear friend at the dinner table. As the three of us sit together, I regale them with stories of a teacher I deeply admire. She’s been telling us about how she prays the rosary and speaks to women entering abortion clinics, urging them to “choose life.” I believe this is a good act, something I want to be part of, and I’m proud of my righteousness. My mother’s friend says to me simply, “There are a lot of reasons women have abortions.” Almost 20 years later I will learn that this friend had an abortion, which makes sense statistically speaking, since one in three women do.

I am 14 and sitting in high school religion class. The male instructor tells us that pre-marital sex and contraception are forbidden by our Catholic faith. He says the risk especially isn’t worth it for women: It is, according to him, physically impossible for women to orgasm. At the time, and still, I despair for this man’s wife, and for him. Shortly after this lesson the class watches a 45-minute “documentary” about “partial-birth abortion.” This concludes my sexual health education.

I am 18 and counting 180 seconds, waiting to see whether one or two lines appear on a white stick. In a few weeks I am moving to New York to begin college. In those 180 seconds I decide with little fanfare that, regardless of the number of lines, I will not be pregnant when I go. One line appears and I move, able to begin the education I’ve dreamed of and worked for.

I am 19 and talking with a friend. We get to a question that often comes up among women: What would you do if you got pregnant? She tells me calmly and candidly that she would have an abortion. She is the first person I’ve heard say this aloud. Her certitude resonates with me. I know that I would too, and that though I always felt I should be sorry, I would not be. I feel the weight of the shame I’ve been carrying and I stop apologizing for what I know.

I am 20 and teaching sexual education classes to high school students. More than one young woman tells me that she believes she can prevent pregnancy by spraying Coca-Cola into her vagina after intercourse. We talk about safe and effective methods of contraception. Years later, I still think about the damage and danger inflicted upon young women out of fear of our sexuality and power.

I am 21 and lying naked in bed next to a man I’ve been seeing. We’re discussing monogamy. I’m on the pill and he’d like to stop using condoms. He wants me to know, though, that if I become pregnant he won’t let me have an abortion. Because I am desperate to be loved and because I don’t yet understand that love doesn’t mean conceding your autonomy, it will take another year before I leave him.

I am 22 and my friend—the first I know oftells me she is having an abortion. After the procedure I do not know the right thing to do or say or how to comfort and support her. We will lose touch. Like 95 percent of women who have abortionsshe will not regret her choice. When we reconnect years later, we will talk about her happiness and success and about how far we’ve both come.

I am 24 and reading about Congress making a budget deal contingent on “defunding” Planned Parenthood. I understand that though I now refuse to date men who believe they have a say in my reproductive choices, I’m stuck with hundreds of representatives and senators who think they do and who will use my body and health as a bargaining chip.

I am 26 and in my home state of Texas, Wendy Davis is filibustering an anti-abortion bill with two pink tennis shoes on her feet. I watch her all night, my heart swollen with pride at hundreds of women screaming in the rotunda, refusing to be ignored. Despite their efforts, Texas HB 2 will pass. Within three years, over half the abortion clinics in Texas will close.

Today I am 29 and five justices of the Supreme Court have declared the burden imposed by two provisions of HB 2 undue. Limiting abortion and lying about the effects of these laws hurts women’s health, and now the highest court in this nation has declared these actions and these laws unacceptable and unconstitutional. I am in Washington, D.C., 1,362 miles from the home where I grew up, the day the decision is announcedbut it is not just about me and it’s not just about Texas. It is about the recognition and vindication of our worth and rights as human beings. All 162 million of us.

News Abortion

Texas Advocates Speak Out as Abortion Access Hangs in the Balance

Teddy Wilson

Reproductive rights advocates with the #FightBackTX Truth Tour have traveled around Texas this month to raise awareness about the negative effects anti-choice laws have had on abortion access.

Young women on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station Friday read personal narratives about having abortions as part of the #FightBackTX Truth Tour. The speakers gave life to the experiences of women who have had an abortion as part of an ongoing effort to end the stigma around the procedure.

The Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education, a student organization, sponsored the event on Texas A&M University’s campus.

Reproductive rights advocates with the #FightBackTX Truth Tour have traveled around Texas this month to raise awareness about the negative effects anti-choice laws have had on abortion access, and the further repercussions for reproductive health care that could come to pass in the coming months.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 2 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (formerly v. Cole), the case that will decide the constitutionality of the sweeping anti-choice restrictions passed by Texas Republicans in 2013.

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“It’s a challenge to the Texas law that has had such drastic impact on this state and could have even more detrimental impacts if the case doesn’t go our way,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, one of the sponsors of the tour, told Rewire.

Busby explained the importance of traveling around the state to raise awareness and ensure diverse voices from all women could be heard. “We really wanted to make sure that Texan voices were represented, and not just in Austin at a rally at the capitol, but across the state,” Busby said, referencing the battle waged at the tail end of the 2013 legislative session.

SB 5 was introduced during the first special legislative session called by then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2013. Republican lawmakers tried to push through the bill at the end of the session, and it was filibustered in an act of political defiance that would have a lasting effect on the politics of abortion in the state and throughout the nation.

Then-state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) spoke on the chamber floor for more than 11 hours, preventing a vote from being called before the midnight deadline on June 25, 2013. The filibuster was broadcast live, and people tuned in throughout the country to watch the stream online.

It was a galvanizing moment for Sidney Coker, a sophomore special education major at Texas A&M. She watched the filibuster and the protests from her home in Irving, Texas, the summer before her senior year in high school.

“It definitely made me realize that these are issues that I’m going to have to care about as a woman,” Coker told Rewire.

The political victory of Davis’ filibuster was short-lived. An identical bill, HB 2, was passed and signed into law during a second special legislative session. 

“What we have to realize is that moment was more of a catalyst,” Busby said. “What we’re seeing now and is that we’re really working hard to do is continue that work.”

After Davis’ filibuster, Busby saw people from all over the state who had come to Austin to protest at the capitol return to their communities and begin having conversations about abortion access.

“Sen. Davis’ filibuster and all of the people who came and testified at the capitol broke the silence around abortion access. Now people are talking about this issue, talking about their own abortion experiences and why they support access to abortion care,” Busby said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit challenging two provisions of HB 2: the admitting privileges requirement as applied to two clinics—Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso—as well as the requirement that every abortion clinic meet the same building requirements as mini-hospitals.

If the Supreme Court sides with Texas, there will be only nine or ten clinics, licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, that will provide abortion services in a state with more than 5.4 million women of reproductive age, according to CRR.

“We already seeing the impact of this,” Busby said. “There was a study that came out last year about how there are waiting periods of up to 20 days in some areas,” a statistic found by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) at the University of Texas at Austin. “Anecdotally, that’s what I’m hearing as well: people calling our office saying that they can’t get an appointment and where can they go.”  

The TxPEP study concluded that the longer waiting periods would increase the number of second-trimester abortions. The study’s authors noted that this is concerning from a public health perspective because “later abortions, although very safe, are associated with a higher risk of complications compared to early abortions.”

“When you’re cutting off timely access to safe care, some folks are resorting to other options if they can’t get an appointment at a clinic or if they can’t get an appointment anywhere close to where they live,” Busby said.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in nearby Bryan closed in 2014 because it would not meet the requirements of HB 2, leaving Texas A&M students with few options for affordable reproductive health care. The Women’s Clinic on the Texas A&M campus is one of the few places where students can access reproductive health care.

Coker said that she goes to the Women’s Clinic to get hormonal birth control, but that is one of the only services they offer. “If you want anything else you have to go to an actual doctor off campus,” Coker said.

The lack of access, either due to distance or cost, has reportedly pushed some women as far as attempting to self-induce abortions. Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women of reproductive age have attempted to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance, according to a study by TxPEP.

“Texas has a long and proud tradition of standing up for reproductive rights,” Rachel Jacobson, the Texas state director for Shift, an organization working to “shift the stigma around abortion” that also sponsored the#FightBackTX Truth Tour, told the students in the plaza. “We know that no matter what happens at the Supreme Court we’re going to have challenges and we’re going to have opportunities ahead.”