If you don’t live in Texas, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of House Bill 60 (HB60) and Senate Bill 5 (SB5), a pair of rabid anti-abortion measures that aim to effectively outlaw abortion across the entire state. I’ve followed the HB60/SB5 saga through the articles and Twitter updates of Texas pro-choice activists (and Frisky contributors!) Andrea Grimes, Dan Solomon, and Jessica Luther. These three are part of a group of hundreds of citizen activists who have set up camp at the State Capitol to demand access to reproductive healthcare, and they’ve been working their asses off to stop these bills.
I’ve never even been to Texas, but as I saw the situation play out I experienced alternating waves of pride and rage. I asked Dan and Jessica how non-Texans could help the cause. “Just letting people know,” said Jessica. “Let people in Texas know to call their reps. Tell those outside the state to bear witness both to what conservatives are doing and that there is a concerted pushback grassroots effort.” Dan agreed: “Let’s definitely not let the fact of the concerted pushback go unmentioned, please. It only makes things that much harder for people here when we get painted as a bunch of idiot rednecks.” Point taken. Here are a few things everyone should know about HB60, SB5, and the fight to stop them:
1. The bill would close 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Texas is the second largest state in the union. It is 773 miles wide and nearly 800 miles long. It has a population of 26 million people, many of whom live in rural areas, and nearly 20% of whom live below the poverty rate. SB5 will leave just 5 abortion clinics open (shown in purple dots in the photo above), and even those clinics that remain open will be banned from performing abortions after 20 weeks. It’s needless to say this bill would gut Texas women’s access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, and the people hit hardest will be poor and rural women, who don’t have the means or transportation necessary to travel huge distances for an abortion. As of right now, despite massive resistance from Texas citizens, HB60 passed and SB5 is on its way to the state senate.
2. Pro-choice Texans formed a “people’s filibuster” to block the bill from a vote. On Thursday night, over 700 Texas citizens assembled at the capital to testify against HB60 and block the destructive bill from being voted on. At midnight, a Republican Representative Byron Cook tried to shut down the seemingly endless stream of men and women giving their 3-minute testimonies because it had “become repetitive.” The so-called “Feminist Army” of protesters refused to back down. When a woman was removed from the podium, protesters began chanting “Let her speak! Let her speak!”
The hearing was reconvened, and a woman named Lesli Simms came to the podium. “Our words are not repetitive,” she said. “Our government’s attacks on our choice, on our bodies, is repetitive.” The testimony continued until nearly 4AM, when Cook finally got so tired and cranky that he just left the room, despite the fact that three women were standing up to testify and hundreds more were still waiting to speak.
3. The bill’s sponsor thinks a rape kit is the same as an abortion. While arguing against an amendment to the bill that would add an exception to the abortion ban in cases of rape or incest, the bill’s sponsor, Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), claimed such exceptions were not needed because, and I quote, “in the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” Yes, she seriously said that. Laubenberg is also a member of the state’s public health committee. Head, meet desk.
4. Texas Democratic legislators deserve major props. It’s very easy, especially for outsiders, to dismiss all Texan politicians as bible-thumping bigots. Don’t. The fight against HB60 and SB5 has highlighted some of the dimmest bulbs of the Texas legislature (See Jodie “Rape Kit Abortion” Laubenberg, above), but it has also shone a light on Democratic leaders who stepped up to protect their constituents from this dangerous piece of legislation.
Representative Senfronia Thompson from Houston hung a wire coat hanger on the microphone as she argued for an exception to the abortion ban in cases of rape and incest. Representative Terry Canales, who represents Hidalgo County in South Texas, more than 200 miles from the closest abortion clinic that would remain open under SB5, told republican senators the bill would send his female constituents into a “war zone” over the border to seek abortions. El Paso Representative Mary Gonzalez reminded her Republican colleagues that limiting abortion access doesn’t stop abortion, it just makes them unsafe. She also asked how her poor constituents, some of whom have no running water, could reasonably be expected to travel to San Antonio for an abortion. “I’m telling you what’s happening in MY community,” she said; under SB5, her community will be 600 miles away from the nearest abortion clinic.
Democratic state senators have vowed to filibuster the bill when it comes to the senate. They may be outnumbered and often drowned out and ignored by their right-wing counterparts, but Texas Democrats are still a force to be reckoned with.
5. SB5 isn’t just about Texas. While sitting in the house gallery, Andrea wrote a really amazing piece for RH Reality Check to address the people who are quick to write off Texas as a hopeless red state when it comes to abortion rights. Here’s an excerpt:
“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 [when they passed a 20-week abortion ban], Washington, D.C.”
Texas needs the support of pro-choice activists across the country right now. It needs to be taken seriously, as does every assault on abortion rights in every single state. Share this story and let people know exactly how massive protests are being ignored and reproductive rights are being stripped away. Let’s keep the voices of those brave Texas activists echoing across the country, even long after their microphones have been turned off.