Two months ago, when I signed up to attend the National Right to Life Convention (NRLC) in Grapevine, Texas, I could not have known that it would kick off the morning after Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster. Two months ago, the media was hailing a legislative session of compromise in Texas, with lawmakers reportedly agreeing to an ostensible truce on the abortion issue, focusing instead on restoring funding to family planning in my state. That was before Gov. Rick Perry pulled a bait-and-switch on progressives who’d had the bad sense to take the Republican Party at its word.
But there I was, in the lesser of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s two Hyatt hotels, stepping off the elevator with two men in priestly garb, their waists cinched with rope. I arrived a few minutes after registration had closed for the day, but a nice lady took pity on my tardiness and handed me my badge and a thick packet of programming notes and baby-plastered propaganda.
I milled around that evening visiting sparsely supervised vendor booths stocked with t-shirts and DVDs before happening upon a deeply unsettling table full “Umbert the Unborn” cartoons. It seems that “the world’s most lovable baby hasn’t even been born yet!” Umbert is a “pre-born infant of yet undetermined gender,” but of course the poster fetus of the National Catholic Register nevertheless prefers male pronouns; his “mother’s womb is his private universe, playground and think-tank from which he can anticipate life and the world that awaits him.”
My outlook was perhaps less sunny than Umbert’s. Despite Tuesday night’s resounding pro-choice victory, during which 500 people chanted Republican Lt. Governor David Dewhurst into cowed frustration in the state Senate chamber, I had no illusions about what came next: a second special session, with abortion legislation at the top of the agenda. I came to NRLC ready to find myself surrounded by fired up right-wingers revved up with the glory of their God.
Instead, I found a few hundred unfailingly polite white people, mostly middle-aged or older, shuffling sedately from conference room to conference room. It was, in a word, jarring. These were the people who would see Texans die behind legislation that would put 800 miles between a pregnant person and an abortion provider?
Sometime that first night, a flyer appeared under my hotel room door. It warned me: “National Right to Life Cannot Be Trusted.”
Alright, I’m listening.
Between phrases like “radical homosexual agenda” and “Mitt Romney’s assault on liberty,” I was able to gather that the NRLC is not nearly right-wing enough for the personhood crowd, who consider Ann Coulter and Billy Graham to be inveterate baby-killers. I did enjoy discovering, after visiting a suggested website, that the authors of this flyer consider Donald Trump to be a “Republican pretender.” Common ground in the unlikeliest of places.
The next morning, I found a back-row seat in the morning general session, looking forward to the party that was sure to begin with the arrival of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who out-Tea Partied David Dewhurst into a D.C. seat earlier this year. Cruz delivered, but the crowd didn’t, giving a surprisingly tepid standing ovation when Cruz called for the abolishment of the IRS.