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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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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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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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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.

Rick Perry: Legislature Will Work Out Punishment for Women Seeking Later Abortions Under Proposed Ban

11:44 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.

Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry has thrown his support behind a potential 20-week abortion ban in the state, but his office told RH Reality Check that he’ll leave it up to legislators to determine the appropriate punishment for women who get later-term abortions.

A caricature of Rick Perry.

How much does Rick Perry hate women? He'll let the legislature decide.

After Perry’s appearance at a Houston crisis pregnancy center last week, RH Reality Check asked his office whether he supported any exceptions to the yet-to-be-proposed law, such as for cases of rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant person. His office’s answer: “those details will be worked out by the Legislature.”

We also wondered: what does Gov. Perry imagine the punishment should be for women who seek abortions after 20 weeks, were Texas to ban such procedures?

His office responded not with the usual anti-choice dithering about punishing doctors instead of abortion-seekers, but with a clear admission that punishment for these women is in order: “That will also be decided by the Legislature.”

What, indeed, might be the appropriate punishment for the southeast Texas single mother of seven children who sought an abortion at 21 weeks? Or the San Antonio woman, 20 weeks pregnant, who’s trying to leave an abusive relationship? Or the college junior from Oklahoma who is picking up extra shifts in hopes of paying for her abortion at 21 weeks?

These are the stories from real people who have contacted the Lilith Fund, a Texas-based non-profit that helps women find funding for safe, legal abortion care. If Texas passes a 20-week abortion ban, Texans like these women — women who are likely to have experienced “multiple disruptive events” in the past year, and who are likely to be victims of domestic violence, according to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute — would be criminals in the eyes of the state.

Lilith Fund president Amelia Long told RH Reality Check that a 20-week abortion ban “unfairly burdens people that are already experiencing some of the worst problems in their lives.”

Long says it’s not the case that women know they want or need an abortion and are “just putting it off and just being lazy about it,” as Perry and his anti-choice supporters seem to believe. “That is never the case with anyone we talk to.”

Instead, says Long, the Lilith Fund hears from women who are in abusive relationships, or from women who initially had a wanted pregnancy but “then something happens that’s a disaster for them,” making the prospect of pregnancy and parenthood untenable. Long characterized Perry’s position as “not acting with compassion.”

Indeed, how compassionate is it to suggest that an unemployed mother of two, a student looking for waitressing jobs who found herself pregnant at 20 weeks after an unsuccessful medical abortion, should pay a fine or serve jail time?

But that’s Rick Perry’s perspective: women who seek abortions after 20 weeks owe a debt to society that must be paid, somehow. It’ll be up to the Texas legislature to decide just how much these mothers, college students, high schoolers and victims of domestic violence owe.

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.

Image by DonkeyHotey released under a Creative Commons license.

Planned Parenthood Files New Suit in Fight Over Texas Women’s Health Program

12:20 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A huge crowd in front of Planned Parenthood's bus at the Texas Capitol

Women and their allies gather at the Texas State Capitol, April 2012. (Photo: Grimes / Flickr)

Planned Parenthood has filed a new suit in Texas state court claiming that it cannot, under state law, be excluded from participating in the newly-established Texas Women’s Health Program (WHP)—a program which the state created with the express purpose of being able to exclude Planned Parenthood, because Texas considers the health care organization an “abortion affiliate.”

A state judge in Austin issued a temporary restraining order Friday preventing the state from banning Planned Parenthood from the state-run women’s health program. The order was issued a day after a federal appellate court refused to reconsider an earlier 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that allowed the state to implement the ban; Planned Parenthood argued the funding ban should be blocked because it was in violation of federal law.

In the lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court, Planned Parenthood argues that the state’s Affiliate Ban Rule is not authorized by Chapter 32 of the Texas Human Resources Code. That is the state law which establishes the Women’s Health Program.

According to the statute, the program is subject to approval from the federal government and makes any provision “inoperative” if it causes the state to lose federal matching money for the Women’s Health Program. According to the lawsuit, HHSC was not authorized by the Texas legislature to adopt the Affiliate Ban Rule because it makes the Women’s Health Program ineligible for federal funding. The Affiliate Ban Rule is, therefore, invalid as a matter of state law.

In Texas, the Planned Parenthood clinics providing preventive health care to about 50,000 WHP clients or nearly half of the total enrollees in the program are kept completely separate—both financially and physically—from clinics that provide safe abortion care. In fact, pregnant women cannot even participate in the WHP, as the program itself is specifically for the prevention of pregnancy in the first place. Abortion has about as much to do with WHP services as heart surgery might; participants in the program are seen for a very limited selection of reproductive health services, including pap smears and contraception. No WHP patient should ever need an abortion because, if the program works properly as it has done for years, no WHP patient should experience an unplanned pregnancy. 

However, Texas Governor Rick Perry released a statement yesterday in response to the new lawsuit vowing to “keep fighting for life:”

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