Representative Democracy

06.25.13

The Mess in Texas

Texas’s state legislature snuck through a draconian abortion bill in a late-night emergency session. Why all the subterfuge? Because the people don’t agree with the politicians, says Amanda Marcotte.

Gov. Rick Perry really wants to end safe, legal abortion in the state of Texas. So much so, in fact, that he’s called a special session of the legislature to get that done. Sure, there were other legitimate reasons to call the special session, which Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune calls “the emergency rooms of legislation” that really should only be used for emergencies. There are transportation and redistricting issues. But apparently Perry and Texas Republicans believe that killing off most safe, legal abortions in the state—the kind that have been going on for 40 years, since the Texas-based Roe v. Wade case was decided—is suddenly an emergency that must be handled during the special session. The time to get that massive black market for abortion up and running in Texas apparently has to happen right this minute.

Let’s be clear. The Republican-led legislature didn’t ram through this massive bill that will close most of the state’s abortion services in the early hours of Monday morning because the voters suddenly up and demanded it. On the contrary! Under the cover of darkness, the Republicans passed this bill despite that most voters do not want it and especially not during an emergency session. Polling data collected by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that 63 percent of Texas voters polled think abortion is restricted plenty enough and want no more restrictions on it. In addition, eight of 10 voters polled think that the special session should not address abortion or any “social issues” at all, but instead should be focused on “education, jobs, and the economy.”

Interactive: Texas's Vanishing Abortions
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The lack of political support for this bill, which creates a bunch of restrictions that will only leave an estimated five clinics standing in the state and also bans abortion after 20 weeks, is, in fact, why the Republicans had to put the vote in the special session instead of the regular legislative calendar. As Ramsey explained for The New York Times, a special session is a time to pass legislation that “could have been addressed during the regular session had state leaders been able to gather legislative support for them.” Indeed, Texas Republicans tried to pass this bill earlier, but couldn’t get the political momentum for it. So now they’re taking advantage of the relatively low levels of attention special sessions get as an opportunity to sneak this one past the voters.

The strategy may not have worked quite as well as they’d hoped, however, because protesters showed up by the hundreds to try to kill this bill with what’s known as a citizens’ filibuster. Ordinary pro-choice Texans all demanded a right to testify against the bill, hoping to run out the clock of the special session and avoid having it come to a vote. Over 700 people signed up to testify, creating a small fluster of media attention and causing the bill number, #HB60, to trend worldwide on Twitter. Eventually anti-choice legislators were able to shut down the stream of testimony, allowing the bill to come to a vote, but any hope they could sneak this one in quietly was terminated.

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Some conservative politicians have made outrageous comments on abortion, like talking about masturbating fetuses.

Just to make it worse for Texas anti-choicers, the classless, misogynist, and just strange behavior from anti-choicers in the legislature is guaranteeing more coverage. Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg continued the conservative trend of sharing weird fantasies about how human reproduction works as if they were scientific fact by claiming, “In the emergency room, they have what's called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.” Despite Laubenberg’s delusion that there’s some kind of pregnancy-preventing enema they can administer in emergency rooms, in reality, rape kits are mainly for gathering evidence and, at best, may involve a dose of emergency contraception to prevent ovulation. Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland thought it appropriate to send implied threats to pro-choice protesters over Twitter, writing, “Some days u r extra thankful we still have the right 2 protect ourselves & the 2nd amendment,” implying that pro-choicers represented a threat that needed to be put down with violence, even though it’s actually doctors and other abortion providers who are routinely targeted with violence by anti-choice activists. Anti-choice Democrat Eddie Lucio rounded out the tasteless behavior of anti-choice legislators by deliberately exploiting the absence of his colleague Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who couldn’t be present to cast the crucial vote that would help block the bill from getting to the state Senate. Why wasn’t she there? Well, because her father was killed in a car accident—for most people, a tragedy, but for anti-choice Texas legislators, it’s apparently an opportunity.

This is how Texas anti-choicers will end safe, legal abortion in Texas: over the protests and disapproval of its citizens, on a wave of fantasies about violence and magical thinking about medical science, and because a pro-choice legislator lost her father. They’re doing it this way because there’s no other way to get it done. Which should be enough to make them reconsider, but sadly for anti-choicers, decency and common sense disappeared from their toolbox decades ago.