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.