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Texas State Troopers Relied on One Anti-Choice Activist for ‘Poopgate’ Intelligence

1:05 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

There’s no evidence that the “feminist army” of orange-clad pro-choice supporters brought containers of urine and feces to the Texas state capitol this summer during debates over an omnibus anti-abortion bill, according to documents released Monday by the Texas Department of Public Safety in response to public information requests sent to the department by media outlets across the state.

The documents do show state troopers relied on unsubstantiated rumors that “orange women” intended to engage in tampon-tossing, poop-throwing, and flashing, as claimed by anti-choice activists on social media in advance of July’s vote on HB 2, which imposes onerous restrictions on abortion providers and clinics and bans abortion after 20 weeks in the state.

On the afternoon of July 12, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) released a statement that said it had “discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces,” three bottles suspected to contain paint, and “significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti.”

But since that press release and in documents released Monday, Texas DPS has been wholly unable to provide evidence of the urine and feces, either photographic or through confirmation from any state trooper, though the department does appear to have photographed a paint canister and three bricks that were “discovered” on July 12.

“I am tired of reading that we made this stuff up,” wrote Texas DPS Director Steven McGraw in a July 14 damage control email released with the documents. He continued, “Does anyone realistically believe we would fabricate evidence to support a political agenda. Amazing.”

But the intelligence that prompted the DPS to conduct gallery-door searches of bags appears to have come predominantly from one person with a very vocal right-wing political agenda: Abby Johnson, the professional anti-choice activist who once ran an East Texas Planned Parenthood clinic before her religious conversion. The day before the HB 2 debate, Johnson claimed on her Facebook page that “angry, hurting” pro-choice people would be “looking to get into trouble tomorrow” and would be “aggressive.”

An individual named Gerardo Gonzalez emailed Johnson’s post, along with another Facebook post from an unknown source (he wrote, “I am not sure who posted this”) to DPS on the morning of July 12. The unknown poster wrote that “women in orange wearing skirts” had plans to “flash” the gallery and throw blood “on supporters of the bill.”

A DPS analyst named Susan Fafrak also alerted officials to joking tweets from pro-choice opponents of the bill, who wondered online if it would be legal to go topless inside the capitol and whether they should go in search of “extremely toxic paint,” as well as Twitter users quoting a Wendy Davis rally speech wherein she called on her pro-choice, Democratic supporters to “rock the boat.”

Fafrak wrote to DPS just before 9 a.m. on July 12 that a Lt. Esquivel had sussed out “rumors” of planned protests. ”Per Lt. Esquivel, rumors are out there saying that the orange women will be taking off their clothes, urinating and defecating in the senate gallery today,” she wrote. “I am still searching form [sic] some sort of confirmation on this.”

Documents reveal that much of the “open source” chatter singled out by DPS concerning tampons, maxi pads, and jars of feces came after troopers had begun searching bags and throwing out food and feminine products as citizens entered the gallery on the 12th, with pro-choice supporters expressing surprise and indignation at the sudden concern over snacks, and noting incredulously that concealed weapons were still allowed inside.

Documents also show that state troopers closely monitored a July 11 organizing meeting held by left-leaning activist group Rise Up Texas, wherein officers observed that the activists “glued signs to sticks” and had plans to be “loud,” throw glitter, and block doorways. There does not appear to have been any similar surveillance of anti-choice groups, or any indication that excrement was part of a protest plan for Rise Up Texas or any other group.

The only person who, to date, has claimed to have actually witnessed the bodily refuse in question is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who told a Waco Tea Partier in an online interview that he personally saw pro-choice citizens trying to bring urine and feces into the senate gallery, though he claims it was contained in water bottles and bags. ”I walked over to where they were screening and they were getting bottles out and smelling them, they were getting water bottles out and smelling and they had urine in it,” he said. “And there were bags they had set aside and were going to put in the trash and throw it out, of feces. Just despicable. Despicable.”

According to DPS’ documentation, the department did screen-capture a Facebook conversation between three individuals—out of about 600 at the time of the capture—on a “Last Stand With Texas Women” event page, discussing throwing menstrual blood on the gallery floor. One of the people in the conversation advocated against using those tactics, saying, “[I]t is a crime that will get you hauled off when we’d much rather have you there yelling with us!”

In the released documents, DPS officials are especially careful to point out that they did not “confiscate” any feces or urine, but that those items “were required to be discarded,” which is perhaps meant to explain why there are no photos of the “discovered” jar of urine and 18 jars of feces.

They did, however, get around to photographing one can of paint.

I Help Teenage Girls Get Abortions

11:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Sign: Jodie Laubenberg, Do Me a Favor Go Back to School

Pro-Choice activists in Dallas call out Jodie Laubenberg on her ignorant attack on women’s rights.

On Thursday, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a sweeping abortion measure, my heart broke for all of what my Republican uncle in Lubbock calls “my girls.” “My girls” are Texas minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy through the judicial bypass process. For the past six years, I have managed a legal hotline called Jane’s Due Process. Primarily, we help minors from across Texas navigate the obstacle course known as the Texas judicial bypass law—or Chapter 33 cases, as our referral attorneys call them. I personally have assisted more than a thousand minors who have called our 24/7 hotline in search of help to terminate a pregnancy.

I have heard so many stories of abandonment, threats of being kicked out, threats of physical harm or harm to the boyfriends, families breaking up or falling on hard times, and parents with life-threatening diseases. Stories that burn into your psyche and spur bubbling rage when you hear Texas legislators callously decide to make rape or incest victims carry pregnancies to term, or close all but five of the roughly 40 abortion clinics in Texas. Basically, the bill would wipe out all abortion providers west of Interstate 35.

At the bill’s signing, Gov. Perry was praised by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), the sponsor of the anti-abortion bill, known as HB 2. Laubenberg became an overnight sensation when during a debate on the bill she said, “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.” Laubenberg said Perry would be known for “eternity” for his work.

Yet, all I can think about is the here and now—how to set up a transportation line to get minors, as well as all others seeking abortions—to a clinic that will survive the draconian targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws.

When Gov. Perry signed HB 2, my heart especially broke for one girl and one baby. I picked up a minor this month to get her to court for a judicial bypass case. She is taking care of a baby she had nine months ago, a preemie who spent months in the neonatal unit and needs around-the-clock care. This minor has not left her house for months. She is in constant fear the Medicaid-provided nurses will screw up her baby’s tracheostomy. As is true with so many of my cases, this minor was kicked off Medicaid 90 days after her delivery and thus was not eligible for state-funded family planning services. Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen births in the country and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates. This girl had the doubly bad luck to have a dad incarcerated for drug dealing and a mom suffering from schizophrenia. She has no family on which to fall back. She is alone. She would like to graduate from high school and go on to nursing school, but she is scared that being away from her house could allow undue harm to her baby.

As I watched the healthy and prosperous politicians at the bill signing, I couldn’t help but think they live in a parallel universe far different from that of the minors who call our hotline. One in four of our clients is an orphan or orphan de facto. One in five of our clients already has been pregnant at least once, which is not really surprising because Texas’ family planning network has been dismantled, and parental consent is required at many of the clinics that remain open.

It is for those reasons I ask Gov. Perry, Rep. Laubenberg, and anyone else who wants to outlaw abortion: Where are you when desperate folks are in desperate situations? Will you be there to remove the tracheostomy tube and clean the stoma? Will you make sure it is “cleaned out” so my girls can finish their education? Won’t you lavish some of your compassion on my girls?

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New Texas Law Unfair, Increases Inequality

1:21 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Read all of RH Reality Check‘s coverage of the recent fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

El Paso downtown

Women in communities like El Paso will find it much harder to receive reproductive health services under #HB2.

There will be many, many pixels spent on the ramifications of the new law in Texas, signed by Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, a law set to close most of the abortion clinics in the state. I’ll spill some myself, and already have. What I want to address is the larger theme of the anti-choice movement that the Texas decision really brings to the forefront: The profound commitment to unfairness and inequality that holds the anti-choice movement together. Not just between men and women, though it’s certainly true that subjecting those with a uterus to state control over their reproductive organs contributes to that inequality. The anti-choice movement and their goals are unfair on every level, and the Texas decision shows that.

1) Inequality by geography. The anti-choice movement’s strategy of attacking abortion rights on a state-by-state basis may have been the expedient choice—it’s much easier to get largely unpopular abortion restrictions passed through state than national politics—but it’s also one that creates massive gulfs in access based on nothing more than geography. Even though all Americans are supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law, laws like this mean some Americans can’t easily get to an abortion clinic while some have all the access they need. This was already true for a lot of Texans compared to, say, New Yorkers—the anti-choice climate plus the huge swaths of rural land without much in the way of abortion access made sure of that—but this law will dramatically deepen the disparity between who and who does not have realistic access to their abortion rights.

In other words, Texas politicians just targeted their own people for the removal of rights, or at least realistic access to those rights. It’s not New Yorkers or Californians that will have to scrape together hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get access to a safe, legal abortion. It’s Texans, and for no other reason than the accident of geography. To make it worse, this disparity will happen within the state, too, as people who live in the urban areas around Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas will have clinics relatively close, but those who live in West Texas will have nothing.

2) Inequality by wealth. What that means, of course, is that the already-existing gaps of access between women of means and those without will get much worse. It’s a struggle for working class and low-income women to get any kind of health care; it’s a struggle for them to get an abortion even if there’s a clinic right down the street, because you still have to come up with $300-$600 to pay for the procedure. Now it’s just going to get worse, as many women will have to drive—or fly, because it’s really that far away now—hundreds of miles to get to clinic. Or worse than that, because the five remaining clinics won’t be able to handle the abortion demand, so women will have to look outside of the state, or even halfway around the country.

For women with means, being able to take an “abortion vacation,” perhaps flying to New York City for an abortion and staying in a hotel—maybe go see some sights while you’re there!—will be totally doable. For those who can’t just afford to drop a couple of thousands of dollars and take the time off work, that will be an impossibility. No wonder there’s an already existing black market in abortion pills, one that’s expected to grow after this law goes into action.

3) Unfairness to taxpayers/inequality in movement funding. One of the most under-discussed issues here is that the anti-choice movement is basically redirecting necessary tax revenues needed for things like education and infrastructure to fund their movement. Texas passed a law that is in direct violation of the “undue burden” clause of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That means that the legislators opened up the state to a lawsuit, but it’s going to be an extremely expensive one, almost surely running into the millions of dollars. All the lawyers working to defend this law? Paid for by the taxpayers of the state of Texas.

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‘What Kind of Abortions Are We Willing to Let Texas Women Have?’: An Expert’s Testimony Against SB 1

12:15 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

The following is invited testimony on Texas’ SB 1, as given by Whole Women’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller to the state Health and Human Services Committee at the special senate hearing Monday.

Amy Hagstrom Miller

Madam Chairwoman and honorable committee members,

Thank you for inviting me as an expert witness for the hearing today. I appreciate the opportunity to lend my expertise to the committee, and I invite your questions. My name is Amy Hagstrom Miller, and I oppose these bills. I am the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. We operate five licensed abortion facilities and one ASC [ambulatory surgical center] in the state of Texas.

In my testimony I will address four main issues:

  1. There is no safety problem related to abortion care in the state of Texas that this bill is addressing.

  2. The existing abortion facility regulations are rigorously enforced and are sufficient to ensure the health and safety of women in Texas.

  3. Medication abortion is safely offered in clinic settings and falls completely outside the scope of practice for an ASC.

  4. Requiring MDs to have admitting privileges is not equally enforced over other medical specialties, nor is it necessary to ensure the health and safely of Texas women seeking abortion care.

We have over 40 years of safe abortion on record in Texas, and the current regulatory system is more than adequate to ensure women’s health and safety. The ASC requirements put forth in this bill are unnecessary and completely unrelated to patient safety.

Abortion facilities in Texas are licensed, inspected, and highly regulated. We operate safe and professional facilities all over this state, and the ASC requirements will not improve care, but rather reduce access for women in Texas and put more women at risk for later term abortions or for illicit abortions outside the medical community. ASC regulations are primarily related to the physical plant and they do not make abortion any safer. While abortion is ethically, emotionally, and spiritually complex for many people, the fact is that it is medically simple. Abortion is provided by one MD and one nurse, it takes five to ten minutes, it is done under local anesthesia and optional mild sedation. Women get dressed and can walk on their own to the recovery room. There is no incision and an extremely low risk of infection. There is no need medically for the larger OR, the wide hallways, the additional airflow system, the regulated humidity, the locker rooms/showers, and janitor closets. ASCs are simply not needed for safe abortion care.

This bill also puts forward a radical restriction for the abortion pill—a simple set of medications women take to induce miscarriage, usually before there is even a fetus. This bill would require that medication abortion be offered only at a surgical center and that women be required to come in for no less than four face-to-face visits with the physician in order to take the pill. This is totally uncalled for medically. Why would it be in the best interest of Texas women to place any additional restrictions on their access to safe, early abortions? Restrictions on medication abortion should be removed from this bill completely.

Finally, I wish to address the requirement for all MDs providing abortion care to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the ASC. Abortion is one of the safest procedures in medicine—it is [14 times] safer than full-term childbirth and with a complication rate of .05 percent. Abortion providers rarely have transfers to or admissions into hospitals for their patients. The current system we have for abortion facilities in Texas works very well and ensures safety for the women we serve. No other MD providing day surgery at an ASC is required to have admitting privileges—the ophthalmologist, the orthopedist, the gynecologist. The current ASC regulations in force statewide and across specialties requires MD to have privileges or have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. This system is perfectly adequate to care for women seen in ASCs of a variety of surgeries across specialties.

In conclusion, let me remind you that abortion didn’t start with Roe v. Wade; safe abortion started with Roe v. Wade. Women have always had abortions, and Texas women will still need access to abortion if you pass this bill. The issue at hand here is what kind of abortions are we willing to let Texas women have? This bill is specifically crafted to reduce women’s access to abortion in Texas, plain and simple. It does nothing to prevent abortions or prevent unplanned pregnancy. It does nothing to change the need for abortion among Texas women. If these restrictions pass, thousands of women will be without proper care. I strongly oppose the passing of these bills and thank you again for hearing my testimony.

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