House Committee Hearing on HB2 & Diverse Needs of Texan Women

There has been some truly incredible testimony tonight at the Senate committee hearing, and there are many quotes that I would like to honor and remember as the days of the second special tick by, but that testimony — though moving and brilliantly compelling — isn’t what I wanted to share with y’all. A “pro-life” young woman stood up tonight and remarked that she didn’t need “reproductive justice or free birth control,” and the privilege in her statement was absolutely stunning. I don’t mean to attack this one young woman; her sentiment is shared by many. But there are some fundamental problems that were evident in her testimony that reflect a larger lack of understanding on the part of “pro life” activists who seek to curtail our access to affordable abortion care.

It was obvious from her testimony that though she talked about “crisis pregnancies,” she had no understanding of what it really means to be pregnant with nowhere to turn. Nor did this young women understand that just because she “doesn’t need free birth control,” that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women who do desperately need free or low-cost birth control. I work two jobs during the summer and one during the year, paying for a private school in Washington state, rent, utilities, and all other bills. I’m lucky enough to have supportive parents who help me when I can’t quite cover everything — but I certainly can’t afford the $100 per month sticker price of my birth control prescription. Keep in mind that I’m a white, middle class, young woman — and without clinics like Planned Parenthood, birth control would be unaffordable for me.

Now think about all of the factors that complicate access to birth control — both in terms of financial resources and community support — and it’s not hard to understand why so many women are fiercely defending their right to affordable and accessible health care; their right to make their own healthcare decisions. Women of color in Texas often grow up in conservative communities, where abortion and birth control are taboo subjects for young women. On top of that, there are far fewer free or low-cost clinics in rural and border areas than there are in major metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas, and Austin. It’s curious to me — and I know I’m not the only one — that women of color are already operating with far fewer choices than their white counterparts in big cities. Certainly there are women of color in these big cities as well — but the number of women of color disproportionately affected by bills like HB2 is astronomical. When posed as a question to GOP committee members, the disproportionate effect of HB2 on young women of color has been dismissed time and time again by pointing out that “it’s possible that some clinics will stay open.” If those speaking in favor of HB2 were truly pro-choice, they would understand that sometimes a woman’s life depends on her ability to access affordable birth control. Sometimes a woman’s life depends on her ability to access affordable abortion services. For many women in abusive relationships, the windows of opportunity to seek abortion services are few and far between — often forcing women past the 20 week mark. I challenge Rep. Laubenberg or any of her anti-choice colleagues to look a young woman in the eyes and tell her that she can’t have an abortion because the only day she could get to the clinic without notice from her abusive partner was past the 20 week mark.

Once you factor those things into your determination about whether or not sexual healthcare is easily accessible for all women in Texas, factor in other circumstances that can prevent a woman of any race from being able to access abortion or preventative health care: rape, incest, a significantly lower income than the national average, less information about safe birth control choices, abusive partners, and physical or mental disabilities. Women seeking birth control or an abortion likely often already have young children — remember that most women who get abortions are already mothers, many of whom have decided that they don’t have the ability or desire to care for an additional child. Should HB2 pass, you would be asking mothers to place their own welfare, and that of their children, below the welfare of a cluster of cells that might, one day, become a person. Should HB2 pass, you’re asking those same mothers to forgo affordable birth control or cancer screenings  because the clinics that once provided those services also provided abortions.

Just because that young woman and her “friends in blue” can afford to pay sticker price for birth control, HPV screenings and vaccines, STD testing, pregnancy tests, condoms, and other preventative healthcare doesn’t mean that all — or even most — women in Texas can afford those services. That Texas is ranked the 4th highest in the US for teen pregnancies should tell you something: abstinence-only education and inaccessible birth control just isn’t working. We should be wary when the bills we pass become law without any consideration for the diverse needs of the women of Texas.

Texas Politics: Don’t Mess with Texas Women

In the chaos of the last few days, I have gotten a better crash course in House & Senate rules, proceedings, and norms, than I ever could have imagined. At 12:30am last night, I somehow ended up in charge of the hundreds of people on the second floor (outside the Senate chamber entrance), listening to the live feed with headphones and shouting updates to those around me. A few women at the front of the crowd with me (and one very, very loud man) would quiet the floor by shouting “THERE’S AN ALEXIS UPDATE,” waiting to hear the latest news from inside the Senate gallery.

Impacts of SB5

There are some important ramifications of each of the provisions listed above. The bill would effectively shut down 37 of Texas’ 42 clinics, leaving only five open to service a state where getting from one corner to the next is a 14 hour drive. There would no longer be clinics in rural or border areas, leaving women with limited and strained financial resources to drive from El Paso to San Antonio for an abortion. Because of the sonogram bill passed in 2011, they will have to take several days off of work (or leave and return) to fulfill the 24 hour waiting period between the sonogram and abortion. The cost of an abortion in Texas would skyrocket from about $400 to about $1,200. Add the cost of transportation and hotel for the waiting period plus the cost of lost income, many women would be nowhere close to affording an abortion. Women will not stop getting abortions. There was compelling, tear filled, and tragic testimony in both the House & Senate this weekend that told the stories of women who grew up when abortion was not affordable and accessible — those women turned to butcher shops for back alley, unsterile, illegal abortions — or they did it themselves, drinking bleach or attempting dangerous versions of the procedure with coat hangers and other household items.

The Filibuster

Wendy Davis, one of (everyone’s) my personal heroes, stood from 11am to 3am the next day in attempts to block SB5, a bill that would cut off abortions after 20 weeks, require abortion clinics to obtain “Ambulatory Surgical Center” status, and require abortion providers to obtain privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. SB5 included other restrictive provisions as well, and included no exceptions for rape or incest.

Wendy Davis stood on the Senate floor and actively filibustered this bill for 11 hours. Normal Senate rules operate on a variation of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule; three violations of Senate rules means that the body then votes to end the filibuster (which, in a GOP dominant house, was a certainty, should Davis have incurred her three “strikes.”)

Rule 4.03 of the Senate rules reads as follows:

Although there is no Senate rule by which a member
can be taken from the floor for pursuing “dilatory tactics” (40
S.J. Reg. 882 (1927)), a Senator who has been repeatedly called
to order for not confining his debate to the question before the
Senate may be required by the Senate to discontinue his
address.
A point of order against further debate of a question by
a Senator on the ground that his remarks are not germane to the
question before the Senate is often disposed of by the chair with
a warning to the Senator who has the floor to confine his
remarks to the pending question.
When speaking, a member must confine himself to the
subject under debate. In discussing an amendment, the debate
must be confined to the amendment and not include the general
merits of the bill or other proposition.
The point of order having been raised for the third time
that a Senator who had the floor was filibustering and not
confining his remarks to the bill before the Senate, the chair
requested the Senate to vote on the point of order. It was
sustained and the Senator speaking yielded the floor (44 S.J.
Reg. 1780 (1935)).

and clearly states that only violations of germaneness can be used to end a filibuster. The  notes on this rule go on to make the distinction between germaneness violations and violations of other types even more clear:

Raising of a third point of order against further debate
by a Senator on the floor who has digressed for a third time
from a discussion of the pending amendment, after having been
twice requested to confine his debate to the amendment,
justifies the presiding officer in calling for a vote by the Senate
on the question of whether or not he shall be permitted to
resume and continue his remarks (50 S.J. Reg. 418 (1947)).

Her first violation was for germaneness, and the GOP argued that her testimony had gone so far off the topic of the bill put before the body (SB5) that it violated Senate rules. I would love to hear a coherent explanation of how Roe v Wade isn’t a germane subject when debating about a bill that places such a hefty burden on women seeking abortions clearly violates our constitutional rights to obtain an abortion, but the GOP was living in the land of incoherence last night. In fact, one GOP member asked this of Davis:

Is it your understanding that Roe v Wade provides women the right to obtain an abortion?

Strike one for GOP literacy, and sadly, strike one for Davis.

In late hours of the evening, Davis received a second strike — for receiving help from Senator Ellis as she put on a back brace. There was some pretty stunning and emotional testimony from Senators who supported and opposed the bill about the Senate tradition of filibustering — it has always been the case that the Senate has provided support to the person filibustering, even when they disagreed, often providing ice chips, orange slices, etc, and even, in at least one case, by forming a circle around the filibustering member to allow him to pee into a bucket. NEVER before last night has a filibustering member of the Senate faced such scrutiny.

It’s stunning that, in the middle of a debate about whether or not they had the right to legislate a woman’s body, they stopped to legislate whether or not the vastly courageous woman protesting this bill in front of them, representing the voice of millions of Texas women, had the right to control and make decisions about her own body.

Zaffirini, who supported the bill, rose to protest this “strike,” citing the only Senate rules that dictate a member’s conduct while addressing the body.

The rule: Rule 4.01.

When a Senator is about to speak in debate or to communicate any matter to the Senate, the member shall rise in his or her place and address the President of the Senate.

… and the only applicable note:

When a member has been recognized and is speaking on a motion to re-refer a bill, he must stand upright at his desk and may not lean thereon (61 S.J. Reg. 1760, 1762 (1969)).

There is no rule about touching another member of the body — and even if there was, it would not count as one of the three strikes.

When Davis received her third strike (only her second for germaneness) the Capitol went insane. The gallery erupted into cheers after Van de Putte’s question to the chair:

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and those of us gathered on the second floor realized that if we could be loud enough, combined with those in the gallery, we could drown out the vote and run down the 20 minutes left on the clock… so that’s what we did. There was brilliant political maneuvering on the part of Senate Dems to run down the clock,  pointing out that Wendy didn’t have enough violations to justify an end to her filibuster. The loudness of everyone in the Capitol delayed the vote until after midnight. In the Capitol, we had no idea whether the vote would be considered valid, and kept cheering going until we got official word that the vote would not count.

The Senate clerk wrote down that the real vote did not start until 12:03am, but Senate Republicans actually went back and changed the time stamp on the vote in the official record. Luckily for us, over 100K people were watching the live feed, and someone leaked this photograph: 

photo

There might be a second special session, and we’ll deal with that when and if it happens, but this should be one HUGE message to our legislature: You don’t mess with Texas women.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Thank you Wendy.

Texas Politics: Special Session to Consider SB5*

*The special session was supposed to include HB60 and HB16 as well, but both got postponed and SB5 quickly became the focal point of the session. HB60 and HB16 were folded into SB5.

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