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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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Who Really Controls Rick Perry and David Dewhurst?

11:45 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check.

Texas Lt. Gov Dewhurst

Who controls Rick Perry & Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst? It’s not Texas voters.

Less than a day after pro-choice activists and Democratic state senators defeated a massive anti-choice bill designed to shut down all but five abortion clinics in the whole state of Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry announced he would force a second special session of the legislature to force the bill through. He then went on to rub salt in the wound, making mockery of and condescending to state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who conducted an 11-hour filibuster to keep the bill from a vote, a move that ultimately succeeded despite efforts by the GOP to rig the vote. Just in case you were unsure of Rick Perry’s apparent belief that the main purpose of government is control and surveillance of female sexuality, Perry went on to turn the creepy up to ten, saying, “The louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done.”

It’s hard to understand his belligerent, misogynistic behavior in service of a bill that only serves to hurt women’s health while creating a black market for abortion. After all, despite Texas’s conservative reputation, 80 percent of the voters in the state oppose calling special sessions to restrict abortion rights. Perry is doing this song and dance for only one out of five voters, the hardcore religious right, pretty much the only people who approve of this move by Texas Republicans to exploit a legislative loophole set up to deal with emergencies to cram through anti-choice bills that won’t pass regular legislative sessions. How has it gotten to the point where only 20 percent of the voters basically control the politics of a huge state like Texas, putting their vile obsession with punishing other people for sex above more pressing issues like jobs, infrastructure, and the economy? To understand how it happened in Texas is to understand why it is that anti-choice forces in general have so much power in a country where the majority of people are pro-choice and have been for decades.

In sum, the religious right is smart about exploiting the primary system, and your average Republican voter doesn’t know or care enough about how radical their politicians are to stop voting for them. Anti-choicers and hardline conservatives generally are way more likely to vote in primaries than your average voters, which means they consistently pick the most conservative candidate, even if the more moderate one has more experience or a better grasp on reality. The two most prominent voices on the anti-choice side during this abortion battle—Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst—both have learned in the course of their careers that you either pay fealty to the religious right because of this, or you will not be able to move forward in your political career.

Both Perry and Dewhurst have firsthand experience of how important it is for the hard right to like you if you want to run for major office as a Republican these days. Dewhurst learned the hard way, during a 2012 primary runoff against newcomer Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination to the Senate. Even though he’s been a pretty stalwart conservative for his entire career, the largely incorrect perception that he was an old school Republican who is more interested in business than the messy culture wars hurt him in the polls. As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Cruz relentlessly portrayed his opponent as a creature of the establishment who is too quick to compromise,” and primary voters, eager to prove their own culture war bona fides, rewarded Cruz for this posturing by giving him 57 percent of the vote.

Dewhurst learned the lesson: It’s not enough to, say, be anti-choice. You have to act like your very life depends on blocking as many women as possible from safe, legal abortion or the religious right will start to wonder if you’re just a pretender. In that light, Dewhurst’s behavior after the filibuster succeeded makes perfect sense. Most politicians would accept the defeat, read the polls showing most Texans support your opposition on this one, and go home. But Dewhurst likely doesn’t want another Tea Party insurgent running ads implying that he gave up easily, much less that he was beat by a woman. So it’s no surprise that he petulantly issued the threat for the second session as soon as he announced that the Texas senate missed the voting deadline and has run around posturing on this as much as possible for the media.

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An Open Letter to Anyone Ready to Write Off Texas: Don’t, Because It’s *Your* Future at Stake

8:27 am 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.

Update: After many hours of protest by hundreds of pro-choice Texans, early Monday morning Texas lawmakers gave preliminary approval to the abortion restrictions being considered during the state legislature’s special session. Watch RH Reality Check for more reporting on this story later today.

MyFDL Editor’s Update: #SB5 has passed the Texas House and been sent back to the Senate. By parliamentary procedure, they’d have to wait 24 hours to hear this bill, but are now (1:00pm Central Time) considering whether to suspend their rules to hear the bill immediately. As of this writing, the Senate is in session but “at ease.” -Kit

Women & allies in orange t-shirts at the Texas Capitol

After #SB5 passed, hundreds of pro-choice women & allies gathered outside the Texas House to chant and listen to Democratic legislators.

Covering Texas politics as a feminist journalist, one of the things I hear a lot is: Why don’t you leave? What else do you expect … it’s Texas?

To those people, I say this: I see your smugness. It is a sign of passivity and privilege. And it is dangerous.

Right now, I’m sitting in the Texas State Capitol’s house gallery, surrounded by hundreds of Texans wearing orange shirts in support of reproductive rights, here to protest an omnibus anti-choice bill that would shut down all but five abortion clinics in the state, ban abortions after 20 weeks, and make medical abortions all but impossible to prescribe or obtain legally.

If some of that sounds familiar, I want you to remember what happened in the United States House of Representatives this week: that body launched an attack on our bodies, passing a 20-week abortion ban.

It’s no accident or coincidence that so-called flyover states have passed highly restrictive abortion bills in advance of Congress’ vote. That’s part of the plan. Anti-choice politicians and activists have been working for years to reduce access to abortion in red states where they know they’ll find little opposition from friendly legislators looking to ramp up the war on women.

Texas is not a throw-away state full of throw-away people who can be shrugged off with a contemptuous, “Well, what do you expect?” Texas is not an outlier. Texas is a test case for right-wingers with their eyes on the coasts and, as Congress showed this week, Washington, D.C.

Three days ago, hundreds of pro-choice activists slammed a House State Affairs committee with just 24 hours’ notice, sending committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook into a full-fledged fluster as he tried to shut them out and shut them up.

Organizers expected this people’s filibuster to be a Hail Mary pass. Instead, it became a rallying cry for Texans who have, for years, felt ignored by Republican and Tea Party legislators who listen only to a handful of anti-science, anti-choice, anti-medicine Bible-thumpers, and who have been wholly disenfranchised by an openly racist redistricting system that explicitly sought to exclude people of color from voting in meaningful numbers for their representatives.

Indeed, I think we can forgive Texans for being a little meek when their anti-choice (“pro-life”) representatives straight up threaten them with guns for holding opposing views.Despite all that, Texans are here at their state capitol today, undeterred and ready for an all-night fight for reproductive freedom. I just heard that donors from across the country have ordered pizza delivered to overflow rooms, and local coffee shops are offering up Texas-sized to-go containers in solidarity.

So if you ask me, “What do you expect? It’s Texas,” I’ll tell you that what I expect is 700 people, packed into the capitol building on a Sunday, hugging and crying and chanting because they have had enough. I expect to be unable to walk through the airy, bright Capitol rotunda because it is packed, wall to wall, with people holding hands and holding “My body, my choice!” signs, within sight of Gov. Ann Richards’ portrait.

If Texas is a hopeless bastion of bumpkins, stocked from the Rio Grande to the Red River with disposable citizens too stupid to know what’s good for them, then I am proud to be sitting among the best of them this afternoon.

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(VIDEO) 700 Texans Gather for ‘People’s Filibuster,’ GOP Lawmaker Tries to Silence ‘Repetitive’ Testimony

12:19 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.

See all our coverage of the “people’s filibuster” against HB 60 here.

It’s getting close to 2:00 a.m. in Austin, Texas, and I’m sitting in a room with close to a hundred citizens who have been shut out of testifying against an omnibus abortion bill that would shut down all but five abortion clinics in the state, ban abortion after 20 weeks, and make medical abortion all but impossible to obtain and prescribe.

Safe, legal, accessible abortion in Texas is under direct threat. That’s why many of the people in this room have been here for over 12 hours. The ache in my back reminds me that I’ve been here right along with them.

We’re here as part of a citizens’ filibuster against a bill added to the Texas house’s special session calendar at the last minute by Republican Gov. Rick Perry. They spent the day anxiously waiting for their names to be called by House State Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana). They’ve been poring over testimony, timing themselves on smartphones, practicing their statements in the hallway with quavering voices.

Seven hundred people registered to testify today. Tonight. Into the wee hours. They were prepared to wait as long as it took.

At midnight, Rep. Cook told us that, after nearly seven hours of testimony against HB 60, our words were getting to be “repetitive,” and he would allow just one more hour of testimony.

That’s when the yelling started.

“Let her speak!” chanted women and men who gathered in the room as one woman was escorted away from the podium by a Texas State Trooper.

Shortly thereafter, citizens took over the hearing room and decided to testify with or without the committee members present.

That’s when #HB60 began trending worldwide on Twitter. That’s when people stopped tweeting about getting coffee delivered to the James H. Reagan building here in downtown Austin, and started tweeting about bail money.

Eventually, Rep. Cook and his colleagues called the hearing back to order and gave the gathered citizens another half-hour to speak against HB 60.

“Our words are not repetitive,” testified Lesli Simms, a first-generation American. “Our government’s attacks on our choice, on our bodies, is repetitive.”

There are hundreds of people still waiting to have their voices heard. But it may be their silence, engineered and ensured by Rep. Cook and right-wing lawmakers, that will speak loudest of all.