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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.

How Having an Abortion in Texas Strengthened My Fight for Reproductive Rights

12:32 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Texas Capitol Protest

Getting an abortion in Texas was an eye-opening experience for this pro-choice writer.

When I decided to come to Austin for a summer internship with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, I knew I was signing up for an interesting few months. Although I had been working in the field of reproductive rights throughout high school and college, I was raised in Oregon—the only state in our nation that has yet to pass abortion restrictions in the 40 years since Roe v. Wade. And I attend college in New York, a state where there are no abortion restrictions prior to the 24th week of pregnancy. Before June, I had never been to Texas, let alone to the South.

I had read about the shaky state of reproductive rights in Texas, but I did not anticipate that I would be fighting tooth and nail with anti-choice legislators attempting to hastily and unfairly pass some of the most extreme and draconian abortion bills in the country during a special session, with the two-thirds rule conveniently suspended. I did not anticipate having to beg privileged legislators through my public testimony not to violate my privacy in their attempts to “help” me by doing what they think is best for me. (These legislators ultimately cut off my microphone and walked out on my testimony mid-sentence.)

And at 20 years old, entirely alone in a new city, I certainly did not anticipate having an abortion myself.

I found out I was pregnant on the first day of my internship. Contrary to common rhetoric, my choice to terminate my pregnancy was not the most difficult decision I have ever made, although don’t mistake this for carelessness. I had thought through this scenario before and was sure of my choice before I ever needed to be. Nevertheless, the process of having an abortion was, indeed, quite difficult—Texas law made sure of that. I knew Texas’ abortion restrictions: a 24-hour waiting period, a medically unnecessary sonogram, and a slew of propagandized literature lacking medical evidence. With the follow-up exam, that’s three visits to the clinic. These were all things I would have avoided in Oregon or New York, but doable for me, only because I had some money and my family’s support.

As I entered the clinic parking lot, I was greeted by a few protesters—all white, male, with Bibles in hand—attempting to shame and scare me in a moment when I most valued my privacy. I recall sitting in the NARAL office on the day before my procedure—the day after I’d sat through hours of heated public testimony on SB 5—when our office received a call from the very clinic where I had my appointment, alerting us to the aggressive presence of anti-choice protesters and the desperate need for clinic escorts. I had to excuse myself and went into the parking lot, where I sat behind a car and cried. I was terrified. I had previously thought about what it would be like to have an abortion, and I knew that, for me, it would be difficult. But, naturally, I had expected it would happen in Oregon or New York and, thus, be difficult because of whatever personal reasons, not because I would have to run the gauntlet of aggressive protesters.

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Texas Health and Human Services Says Women Don’t Want to Change Providers—Actually, Many Can’t

12:58 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.

Doctor with stethoscope

Texas women struggle to see doctors they trust after changes to health care programs.

Without Planned Parenthood, the new Texas Women’s Health Program (TWHP) has seen a 23 percent reduction in medical claims and thousands fewer Texans enrolled in the program in the first half of 2013 as compared to the same period last year, when the program was still the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. The state’s explanation? Women just don’t want to change doctors.

“We expected to see a drop off in the number of claims when we moved to the state program because we knew some women wouldn’t want to change doctors,” said Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) spokesperson Stephanie Goodman in a statement this week.

Goodman’s statement is at best glib and at worst a kind of victim-blaming that puts the responsibility for the state’s failure to provide low-cost reproductive health care squarely on the shoulders of the very people it is supposed to be serving.

The TWHP provides contraceptives and well-woman exams to low-income Texans. From 2007 to 2012, it operated as part of Medicaid, receiving a 90 percent federal match in funds and, at peak enrollment, saw almost 130,000 clients. But in 2012, the state kicked Planned Parenthood out of participating in the program because it considers the organization to be an abortion “affiliate” and thereby ineligible to provide health care using public funds in Texas. At that time, the federal government dropped its support of the program because the arbitrary exclusion of any qualified health provider from a Medicaid program is a violation of the Social Security Act, which dictates that Medicaid enrollees have a right to receive care from the physician of their choosing. To fund a program that denies Texans the ability to see the qualified doctor of their choice would, according to the Center for Medicaid Services, be a violation of its own law.

Undeterred, Texas launched a new, entirely state-funded Women’s Health Program in January of this year, and so far it has seen its service numbers plummet without the involvement of Planned Parenthood, which historically saw about half of all Women’s Health Program patients.

According to preliminary data provided by the Texas HHSC, current enrollment in TWHP is estimated to be about 97,000 clients, the lowest number of enrollees since September 2009, when the program was just two-and-a-half years old. This July, the TWHP counted over 10,000 fewer enrollees than it did in the same month last year. Add this to the fact that, according to the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TPEP), more than 60 family planning clinics in Texas—most of which were not Planned Parenthood facilities—have closed since 2011 due to family planning funding cuts, and it’s clear that there’s a serious, and growing, hole in Texas’ reproductive health safety net.

And yet the state says that if fewer and fewer low-income Texans are receiving publicly funded reproductive health care, it must be because women don’t want to change doctors. Considering the very real logistical, physical, and emotional challenges women face now that they have been forced by the state government to find new reproductive health providers, the HHSC’s statement seems an egregious simplification of a deeply complex and personal issue.

Amanda Stevenson, a TPEP researcher who studies the impact of family planning budget cuts on low-income Texans, told RH Reality Check that research shows changing doctors is not simply about personal preferences, but rather about the complex ways Texans choose their providers and the many factors that influence their decisions.

“There’s lots of other complexities that are hidden by [Goodman's] statement,” Stevenson said, citing spatial distribution and capacity of providers as just two factors that affect whether someone is able to switch to a new doctor. “Maybe you don’t want to go to a doctor who is 50 miles from you, but you also sort of can’t,” she said. “Preference is not the right framework for this.”

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A Pro-Choice Texan’s Dispatch From the National Right to Life Convention

1:01 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.

Ted Cruz portrait

Ted Cruz “out tea-partied” Dewhurst at the National RIght to Life Conference.

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.

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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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Texas Legislators Fight Back With Pointed Amendments

9:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In this era of fetuses being called to testify in court and anti-choicers trying to strip away funding for cancer screening and condoms, it does feel for pro-choicers like we’ve slipped down the rabbit hole, but instead of finding ourselves in a fun Wonderland, we’re instead in the madhouse of Wingnutland.  With that in mind, I have to tip my hat to the pro-choice members of the Texas legislature, who decided to fight absurdity with absurdity last Thursday during the debate over a law that will require  any woman who wants an abortion to get an ultrasound, go home to “think” about it, and only then come back for her abortion.  It’s unclear yet if she’ll be required to sit in her room and write, “I will not be a dirty slut,” 100 times over in her best handwriting and be denied her cartoons for a week.  Perhaps legislators will be holding on to that for the next legislative session.

Furious at the sexist paternalism and anti-choice nuttery behind this bill—but unable to do anything to stop it—pro-choice Texas legislators instead decided to engage in a bit of performance art to draw attention to the hostility towards women and short-sightedness inherent in these ultrasound bills that condescendingly masquerade as caring.  Houston state representative Harold Dutton got the most coverage for repeatedly making the point that “pro-lifers” drop all pretense of caring about life the second it can’t be used to punish sexually active women.  In rapid order, he introduced three amendments that were tabled by the majority, who really didn’t want to address the issue of the wellbeing of actual children when potential children matter so much more to them.  All three amendments addressed what should happen if a woman looks at a sonogram and decides not to have abortion.  The first amendment would have required the state to pay for the child’s college tuition, the second required the state to pay for the child’s health care until age 18, and the third required the state to pay for the child’s health care until age six. 

No one was surprised that the anti-choice coalition was able to successfully block these amendments, but Dutton’s point was amply made: anti-choice sentimentality about children is just a ruse to force childbirth to punish sexually active women, and they don’t care one whit about the care and feeding of actual children once they’re born and have served the woman-punishing purpose.

Dutton had allies in this move to use the amendment process to draw attention to the hypocrisy, sexism, and sadism of those who push anti-choice legislation.  Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio also  neatly proved that anti-choicers don’t care about fetal life one bit, by offering an amendment that would require clinics providing abortion to offer medically accurate advice about contraception, with the aim of preventing future unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions.  The supposed lovers of fetal life shot this amendment down, doing as anti-choicers generally do, and choosing woman-punishing over abortion-prevention. … Read more