by Mary Tuma
Sunset Station turned into a venue for political action as the fervor against anti-abortion bills, now moving through quick passage in the Legislature found a place to come alive. Meant to energize already riled up reproductive rights activists to take a stand on protecting women’s health, the rally featured state legislators like Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), newcomer Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and the ever rhetorically effective local favorite, Mayor Julian Castro.
Mayor Julian Castro encourages pro-choice advocates to keep up the fight against anti-abortion legislation. Photo by Mary Tuma.
“We know the real intent of this legislation is to make sure women don’t have any choice in the state of Texas– we can’t stand for that,” said Castro, igniting cheers from the crowd.
And it wouldn’t be a pro-choice rally these days without Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who launched the now highly publicized all-day filibuster to kill the onerous legislation (for the first time around, at least).
“At every turn rules were broken, again and again until finally [
] the people rose because they could not take it anymore,” said Davis, recounting the now legendary last moments in the Senate special session, to resounding applause. “And they rose because they had enough [
] of sitting all day respecting rules of decorum of the Texas Senate they were asked to respect while watching members of Senate disrespect them and disrespect women throughout the state of Texas.”
And that, said Davis, was the beginning of the “tipping point.”
Much like on the floor that day, Davis explained Planned Parenthood’s integral role in her ascent from poverty and contribution to her success. As a poor, uninsured Forth Worth teenager, the reproductive health service served as her primary care center. Davis’ story mimics that of thousands of women statewide, as Texas, for the fifth year in a row, ranks first in highest rate of uninsured residents, according to Gallup.
Sen. Wendy Davis makes a stop in San Antonio during the "Stand With Texas Women" Rally, organized by Planned Parenthood. Photo by Mary Tuma
If the bill becomes law, abortions centers like Planned Parenthood– already seeing devastating effects from GOP-led anti-abortion rules– would likely be threatened to close, as upgrades required by the legislation come with a hefty pricetag. It’s estimated that 37 of the 42 centers in Texas would automatically shut down as a result of Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2. The bills additionally seek to ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, among other measures.
Advocates also heard from Jeffrey Hons, president of Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, a Planned Parenthood patient fearful of the bill’s effects, a physician who opposes the legislation and local activist Patricia Castillo, executive director of P.E.A.C.E Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to addressing domestic violence. At one point, Castillo, who made clear the legislation would further hurt the women her organization strives to aid, got the crowd excitedly chanting “We Procreate Faster Than We Legislate!”
And (it really wouldn’t be a pro-choice rally without) a sizable group of anti-choice activists, equipped with logically confusing signs ranging from “All Women Regret Abortion” to “The Pill Kills.” Referencing the banner, speaker Dr. Rachel Ballard put it bluntly, “regret isn’t a reason to make something illegal.”
Seeing the writing on the wall, elected officials offered their honesty about the bill’s inevitable passage. Flying through the House earlier this week, the legislation is slated to pass the full Senate this afternoon. By saying things like ‘we know the numbers’ but ‘you have the power’ to change the direction in the long-run (i.e. in the voting booth next year) and ‘this is not over’ they sought to assuage the blow while empowering citizens. However, as we’ve seen with the sonogram law and the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program– two anti-abortion issues tied up in litigation but eventually enacted–power usually ends up resting within the confines of the court.
When the show was over and the crowd died down, the Current had a chat with Sen. Watson who explained that while the bill is expected to see a similar court challenge, the climate today is unprecedented. The intimate and widespread attack on reproductive rights and outpouring of hundreds and even thousands of citizens at the statehouse day after day, has in many ways, ignited a new movement.
“I think we’ve seen a tipping point from people outside the Capitol. Texans are smart, and I think people all across the state are connecting the dots,” said Watson. “One of the differences here, one of the reasons you’ve seen this outcry, is that people recognize that those in control at the Capitol have gotten what they want for so long, they’re willing to do anything to get what they want– and this is really personal."
Local pro-choice residents gathered at Sunset Station during the "Stand With Texas Women" to show their opposition to state anti-abortion legislation. Photo by Mary Tuma
“I’ve never seen a reaction like this,” added Watson, “And neither have those in control of the Capitol. We won the first battle, we won the second battle and they may win the third battle, but we’ll win the war.”
Davis invited the audience to move the energy catalyzed by the protests forward and make it grow. Invoking former Gov. Ann Richards– who Garcia rightly pointed out would never let such draconian anti-choice legislation see the light of day– Davis shared a quote delivered by Richards in hopes of compelling activists to keep the momentum afloat, “I want to urge you to make waves. I want to urge you to rock the boat. I want to urge you to get off your duff. I want you to speak out at whatever cost if it comes from your heart.”
With a looming vote set to decimate abortion access in the state, only time will tell if the momentum will tip the boat over.