“I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas. Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state. Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn.” – Rick Perry, Governor of Texas
Didn’t we win this one? I recall there being much hullaballoo last Tuesday night, something about a filibuster and pink sneakers? We #StoodWithWendy and kicked some conservative ass in Texas, right? Wait, you mean it isn’t over? We’re doing this again?
In the words of The Wire’s Clay Davis: “Sheeeiiiiiiiiiiit.”
Quick recap for under-rock-dwellers: Last Tuesday, the special 30-day session of the Texas legislature came to a close with an epic victory and star-is-born moment for State Senator Wendy Davis. After an eleven-hour filibuster, she successfully prevented a vote on Senate Bill 5 (SB5), a package of anti-abortion provisions that would close 80% of the clinics in the state.
Like 200,000 other late-night viewers, I tuned in on YouTube as Davis performed like a boss until an incredible crowd rallied for the final fifteen minutes and helped her prevent the vote. When the procedural dust had settled, Davis had won the battle and progressive night owls fell asleep with smiles on their faces.
But alas, the victory was short-lived and the battle is most definitely not over. Less than 24 hours later, Governor Perry called a second special session to try to pass SB5, now reintroduced as HB2. It started July 1. Is that allowed? You bet!
In Texas, the Governor can call as many special 30-day sessions to address specific pieces of legislation as he would like. During the recently adjourned session, Democratic lawmakers stalled proceedings such that SB5 didn’t get addressed until the final day. Consequently, Wendy Davis only had to filibuster for 11-hours to run out the clock. In this new session, Republicans will likely introduce the bill at the top of the agenda to prevent a repeat performance.
So what’s so damaging about SB5? On its surface, it looks like a reasonable collection of safety precautions. First, the ban on abortions past twenty weeks has been receiving significant media attention, but similar measures have been blocked by courts in other states as unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade confirmed the right to terminate a pregnancy until viability, usually about 24 weeks.
Like most attacks on reproductive rights, however, the danger of SB5 is its attempt to outlaw abortion by way of a thousand tiny, stinging legislative papercuts. Straight-up bans will likely get reversed, so conservative strategists in the last decade have zeroed in on the question of access. By reducing the number clinics available through over-regulation and burdensome financial requirements, and making clinical visits logistically challenging for patients by adding extra requirements, Republicans have found another way to promote their anti-choice agenda. In other words, Supreme Court verdict be damned; if women can’t get to an abortion clinic, it doesn’t matter that the procedure is perfectly legal. This is the strategy of the Texas Republicans. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst even co-opted for Twitter a pro-choice map of Texas pre- and post-SB5 to gloat about the future of limited abortions.
Currently there are 42 clinics in Texas that provide abortion services. The provisions outlined in SB5 mandate that these clinics meet hospital-level surgical standards, even though some of them only provide medication abortion, RU-486, which is prescribed as a pill. These required facility upgrades are unnecessary and prohibitively expensive and would shut down all but five clinics. Only Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston would still have operating clinics and Texas is a big state. Thousands of women, mostly those already with the fewest resources, would be hours from the closest provider. Other provisions in SB5, like the number of in-person visits required for each patient, and where physicians need to have hospital privileges, add similar logistical roadblocks to women seeking care and doctors trying to offer it.
Legality is meaningless without access. These restrictions are like saying that all children are entitled to public education, but only if they can walk to school themselves, and only if their teachers have PhDs. On paper, it looks reasonable; encouraging kids to exercise and requiring well-trained staff! But when you dig deeper, it turns out that all the schools are 30 miles away from where the children live and none of the schools can afford to hire PhDs. Guess no one will be getting educated after all. These SB5 regulations are not designed to make abortion safer for women, these are regulations to prevent women from getting the medical care they need.
So what happens now? Pro-choice groups are gearing up for another fight, but it doesn’t look good. The Republicans have the votes to pass HB2 if it comes to the floor, and the new session is too long for Davis or another bold Senator to try to filibuster. Governor Perry has already made clear his determination to sign the bill.
Now is the time to watch closely. Last Tuesday was good TV, but we need to keep our eyes trained on Texas. Whatever happens, they need to know that we are watching and they will be accountable. Nothing happens behind closed doors anymore, and we know exactly what they’re up to.
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