I Went to the Texas Capitol In Support Of Women's Rights

BlogHer Original Post

Something seriously interesting is happening at the Texas Capitol.

On the heels of last week’s 11 hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis, over 5000 people took to the statehouse to protest the special session called by Governor Rick Perry to vote in the controversial bill severely limiting access to abortions in the Lone Star State.

Elizabeth McQueen and Betty Crafter protest anti-abortion bill HB2 at Texas Capitol

Riding on a wave of optimism and hope and having seen that regular citizens can indeed have an effect on lawmaking and politics, I joined the 5000 women, men and children dressed in orange to show our support of reproductive rights. The energy was amazing. There were a few blue-clad supporters of the bill, but overall it was a peaceful group cheering for the speeches given by lawmakers, celebrities, and clergy who were there. Texas citizens were letting the Legislature know loud and clear that they were angry about this attempt to limit women's choices. Many people said they were there for the same reason that I was - that they were horrified to think that their daughters could grow up to have LESS choice than they had themselves. They were all adamant that women should have autonomy over their own bodies, and that it was unthinkable for lawmakers to make decisions for women that doctors should make.

It all began two weeks ago summer special legislative session, when the Texas State Senate Republicans authored and introduced SB 5, a bill that aimed to:

1) Increase the cut off for abortions from 24 weeks which is the federal standard to 20 weeks.

2) Require all abortion clinics to upgrade to surgical centers

3) Require all abortion providing doctors to have privileges at a nearby hospital.

These last two requirements meant that all but five of the state's abortion clinics would close due to the extremely high cost of making these arguably unnecessary upgrades. In addition, it is extremely unlikely that hospitals would grant abortion-providing doctors privileges as most want to avoid controversy. The few clinics that would remain open would be in the big cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston, meaning that women in rural areas would not have access to abortions, but also life saving medical care like cancer screenings and reproductive health care.

Well let me tell you, Texas women are not to be trifled with!

One of these women, Austinite Melissa Nicholson, says:

"With almost no notice, only sheer determination, women took off work, arranged childcare, and drove to Austin during the middle of the week to testify at the committee hearing starting at 3pm on a Thursday. Over 700 Texans came to testify, overwhelmingly to protect their Constitutional right. These women, and some men heard over 200 stories - heart breaking, deeply personal, heart felt stories that many had not shared with another soul until that night..."

And, they showed up Sunday, June 23 for the House debate and stayed through the night again until 4:00 am. The same people, with their "happy jazz hands", a silent show of support, came in their orange shirts and quietly watched the Democrats debate this bill with every ounce of their being. And, this group gained huge respect for the mad debate skills, sheer will power, and intelligence exhibited by the Democrats. They saw the Democrats stand up for women, for what is right, and propose thoughtful amendments that would make SB5 more palatable. You know, things like exception for rape, incest, and mental disabilities, sexual education, and contraceptive care. And, they saw the bad behavior exhibited by the Republicans as they talked loudly to one another in corners refusing to listen to amendments as a tactic and then, the bill's author, Sen. Jodie Laubenburg refuse to answer any questions regarding her bill.

By this time, word got out that Senator Wendy Davis was planning her 11-hour filibuster this bill on the last day of the special session to prevent a vote on it, hundreds of thousands of people started watching the live stream, and hundreds more decided to head down there in person, like Kaci Myric, an Austin teacher, who decided at the spur of the moment to go to the Capitol with her eight-year-old daughter, Gretchen.

”I told her there was an amazing senator that was trying to make sure other senators didn't take away rights from women. I explained that across the nation there had been many attempts to remove these rights that women had been fighting for for a long time,” Myric explains. “It felt so wonderful to be with my daughter surrounded by so many passionate people. I felt like democracy was happening right in front of us. I was even glad there was one family there in blue with their mouths taped. I got to explain to Gretchen that they were there because they too felt strongly about what was happening. It was just wonderful to see people actually get excited about what our politicians are doing instead of just grumbling quietly at home about what our lawmakers are forcing on us."

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