Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Prepared (Unheard) Testimony for HB2


Last night the House Committee on State Affairs held a public hearing on SB2, an omnibus abortion bill introduced in the second special legislative session called by Governor Perry.  Over 3,000 people came to the capitol to attend the hearing.  Over 1,000 people signed up to give testimony.  Only 90 were heard.  I was among those who wanted to testify, but were never called.  This is the testimony I had prepared.

This is the third committee hearing I’ve been to. Between these hearings and Senator Davis’s filibuster last week, I have heard hundreds of very personal stories relating to abortion access. Many are heart-wrenching. And it’s not just the pro-choice stories I’ve heard that have been heart-wrenching. I’ve also been touched by the stories of anti-choice women and couples who have struggled with the decision of whether to have an abortion. I salute the bravery of all the people who have come before their legislators and spoken from their hearts, oftentimes sharing intimately personal accounts.

One theme that I have noticed running through all these narratives, of the ways in which abortion has touched these many lives, is the theme of choice. Some anti-choice citizens have regretted their decision to have an abortion, but what was significant was that they had the choice. Since when is it the government’s job to protect us from making regrettable decisions? Should we only be free to make decisions that could not lead to regret? Not to mention that these accounts do not consider all the women who have had abortions who do not regret their decision. Indeed, every friend and family member I have spoken to who has had an abortion does not regret her decision.

Other anti-choice citizens have testified to standing by their decision not to abort their fetus that suffered from a fatal abnormality, but again - why should that mean that other women should be forced to carry their dying fetuses to term? The problem with the anti-choice arguments is their extrapolation. The logic just doesn’t follow. If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. But don’t tell me I can’t have one.

The logic of this legislation doesn’t follow in other places too. You tell us that this legislation is in the interest of women’s health, but we’ve heard from countless doctors and medical organizations that these laws will in fact jeopardize women’s health and even lives. You tell us that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, but we’ve heard from the American Medical Association that pain perception does not function before the third trimester. You say you want to reduce the number of abortions in Texas, but we know that limiting access to abortion does not mean fewer abortions, it means fewer legal abortions, and more dangerous ones.

We all know that this legislation is not based on logic, but on dogma. But in our country we have our Constitution that gives us the freedom of religion, and also the freedom from religion. I am sick of coming here, defending my body from your dogma. It’s insulting to hear you say that you are looking out for women’s health. I don’t believe you. Stop using my body as the pretext for these bills that are based on a religion that is not my own. Keep your dogma to your bedrooms, to your bodies, to your churches. It doesn’t belong in these bills, and it certainly does not belong in my uterus.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Foray into Texas Politics

I can say without hesitation that yesterday was my proudest day. Around noon, I heard that a committee in the Texas Senate was having a public hearing on abortion legislation raised in the special session. I read the proposed bill and was pissed off for a couple reasons.

1) The legislation shouldn't even be on the table. The special session was called to address redistricting, not abortion. The proposed abortion bills already died in the regular session. The lawmakers were able to call up the omnibus abortion legislation only because they bypassed a procedural rule requiring a supermajority to bring a bill to debate on the Senate floor; this rule is not in effect during the special session.

2) I was even more angered by what the legislation proposed and what the legislators claimed their intentions were. It was clear that the legislation was aimed at restricting access to abortion. According to the Austin Chronicle, one piece of the bill "would likely have the effect of closing all but five of the state's abortion-providing facilities." Yet the drafters couched the proposals in "we're doing this for your own benefit" language. For instance, the drafters of S.B.5 claim that "The purpose of S.B. 5 is to protect the health and welfare of women considering a drug-induced abortion." But when the bill would effectively shutter the vast majority of facilities providing abortions, women desperate to terminate pregnancies are placed in far greater danger. I don't trust the intentions of anti-abortion legislators drafting restrictive abortion bills and I don't want them using my health as a pretext for their paternalistic laws. My doctor and I can protect my health and welfare, thank you very much.

3) And then I looked at the names of the people who introduced the bill and the names of the people on the Health and Human Services Committee. S.B. 5, which is the bill proposed in the special session, is actually a combination of four bills proposed in the regular session. These four restrictive abortion bills were introduced by Senators Glenn Hegar, Dan Patrick, Bob Deuell, and Larry Taylor. Yup. All men. And the committee discussing the bill? Six out of the nine members are men. Telling me they were protecting my health and welfare. Now I was incensed.

I quickly wrote down two paragraphs summarizing my complaints. I didn't actually think I was going to speak, but I printed up the page and headed to the Capitol at 3:30 with my friend Tony to watch the hearing. When we got to the Senate Chamber, I told Tony I had written something. He convinced me to put my name on the witness list, saying they probably wouldn't get around to me, or I could always pretend I wasn't there when they called my name. After an hour of the hearing, the chairperson of the committee called the names of the first witnesses. I was shocked to hear my name in the first group of six.

When it was my turn, I sat in front of the microphone, hands shaking and voice quivering. I read my piece.


The abortion measures proposed are branded as protections - for the fetus, for the woman, for Texas. But we should not be mistaken as to their intentions. These bills are intended to limit women’s access to abortion across Texas. They are intended to deny women the constitutional right to choose whether to have an abortion. They are intended to constrict reproductive freedom. They are supported by anti-abortion groups and legislators, not women’s rights and women’s health groups. These measures will do exactly what they are meant to do - chip away at a woman’s right to choose.

I stand, as a woman, before a committee comprised of a supermajority of men. I find the paternalism in your proposals disturbing. I don’t believe that you are looking out for my health, and even if you were, I don’t believe you have a right to make reproductive health decisions for me. Please keep your bills out of my vagina.


After I read the last line, the chamber erupted in applause. The committee chairperson banged her gavel and gave her spiel on chamber decorum. I was elated.

I hope the senators heard me clearly: keep your government hands away from my lady parts. I also hope that these men will one day realize that they do not own women's bodies, and if we want legislation to protect our "health and welfare," we'll ask for it (or hell, maybe we'll legislate for ourselves!  Imagine that!). There was a reason the bills failed in the regular session.

I am also proud that I found my voice, even if it was shaky.

video

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Rescue in Cleveland

This morning I woke up to the celebrated news that three young women who were abducted around a decade ago were found in a seemingly inauspicious house in Cleveland, Ohio.  Well, they were found, yes, but rescued, really.  According to news reports, one of the abducted women, the brave Amanda Berry, began screaming from the front door of the house when her captors were gone.  Two neighbors heard her screams and broke down the door, liberating her, two other women, and a young child.  When I heard the story, I thought of the contrast between this rescue and the Kitty Genovese murder in 1964, when neighbors heard the screams of a woman being stabbed but did nothing, and for a brief moment I felt like today's saga represented progress.  The two men who responded to Ms. Berry's screams are true heroes. 

And then my facebook newsfeed became inundated with links to various news and gossip websites that had posted a news interview with one of these heroes, Charles Ramsey, hailing him as the latest Antoine Dodson.  Mr. Ramsey is a middle-aged black man with a missing front tooth who helped kick down the front door of the Castro house.  He described the day's events to a local newscaster with astonishment and bewilderment - pretty much the same emotions any of us would have felt in his position, assuming any of us would have had the courage to approach the house to begin with.  He also said he was eating McDonald's when he heard the cries for helps, and that he had barbequed and eaten ribs with the neighbors now accused of abducting and imprisoning the women.  The video of the interview went viral, along with "best of" lists of quotes from Mr. Ramsey.

The racist and classist undertones of this popular reaction are undeniable.  If we want to have a conversation beyond Mr. Ramsey's heroism, we should examine the last comment he made to the local reporter (which, from the looks of the video, may have made the reporter end the interview):  "Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guns and Progress

Recently, after a day of hiking in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, our group of six settled into a wooden cabin with a bottle of Mezcal, a roaring fire, and feelings of freedom and curiosity that apparently come from trekking 10 miles through remote Mexican villages.  We got into a debate about gun control, and I was soon hopelessly telling everyone (including two young French women and a Bosnian woman) that "guns are deeply entrenched in American culture."

There is a sense of inevitability when we speak of this country's failure to meaningfully address gun violence. A headline from today's New York Times reads, "Gun Control Bid Had No Real Chance, Despite Pleas."

But the truth is, gun policy shouldn't inevitably fail.  Guns aren't "entrenched in American culture," certainly not to the extent that sensible gun safety laws, supported by a majority of Americans, can't pass in the Senate. The NRA is entrenched in politics, and they have many of us lamenting, yet affirming, supposed "gun culture." When we recognize the myth of that culture, and the accompanying myth of inevitability, we will be empowered to progress.

That something has always been is not a reason why it must always be.  Progress is not a natural evolution from the traditional to the contemporary, but a schism between what we think we know in the present and what we imagine for the future.  Our country started as a slave nation, founded on the myth of black inferiority, which was perpetuated by an economy based on free labor.  To many, I'm sure abolition was an elusive, unrealistic dream.  More recently, gay marriage has upturned "entrenched" ideas about marriage.

Yesterday, Gabrielle Giffords wrote a rightfully angry and defiant opinion in the New York Times in response to the Senate's blocking the most recent bipartisan gun-control bill.  In it, she shames the senators who cowered to the NRA instead of standing up for the innocent lives that have been marred by gun violence.  And she warns the senators who affirmed the purported status quo:

"Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful." 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Feminism

I've been reading Gloria Steinem and she's blowing my mind.  In one of her essays, she defined a feminist as "anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men."  When I read this, I asked Robby, who was sitting on the couch across from me, if he is a feminist.  He asked me for a definition and I read him the one I just quoted.  So he said, yeah, he is a feminist.  And then I asked him, what definition could I have given him that would have made him reply no?  How cartoonish our ideas of feminism must be, if I couldn't think of a serious definition for "feminist" that would be objectionable.

Why has a term defined by equality become taboo?  I'll now call myself a proud feminist, and I hope my husband does too.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thought of the day

The other day my friend asked me if I need to lift my boobs to clean under them.  It made me realize how little we know about each other's experiences.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I'm Baa-aack!

After kind encouragement from friends (shout-out to Jordan and Jacob), I’ve decided to start my blog again. I’ve been itching for a creative outlet, and have found myself fantasizing about blog topics and sentences. You know when an idea or thought comes to your mind and you can’t help but smile? That’s been me thinking about writing again.

Another reason I’m starting my blog again is I’ve recently been inspired by two great writers. The two writers are different in their stories, but similar in their styles. Their styles reflect the kind of writer I aspire to be - honest and self-aware, but not confessional or indulgent. I recommend checking out both of their work. The first, who I met over Thanksgiving, and whose blog my mom passed along to me, is named Cheri Walton. Cheri lives in Eastport, Maine, the small beautiful coastal town where my parents live, and she is a terrific artist. And, I’ve just discovered, she’s also a terrific writer. Her blog can be found at http://www.eastport.blogspot.com/.

The second writer is Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She came to Book People in Austin last week for a talk and book signing of her memoir, My Beloved World. I was in the crowd of people who got to hear her speak, and I knew right away I’d love her book by the way she conversed with her audience. She was engaging, bright as can be, and humble - but without false modesty. I devoured her book in four days. Her story was inspiring, and her writing delightful, but it was her character that really shone through. My praise cannot do the book justice, so trust me. Read it.

I hope it’s not hubris to be so inspired by these two. But even if it is, I’m glad to be writing again.