The Modern Fight For Reproductive Freedom
By Rachel Citron
A few weekends ago I came across a bumper sticker in a convenience store that said “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” After moving to Austin 6 years ago, by way of Tucson and St. Louis, this nicely sums up the way I feel about living here. Texas often gets a bad rap as being a somewhat backwards, gun-toting, secession-threatening red state, and some of that is probably justified. However, I can say with absolute certainty that as a young, idealistic, and occasionally naïve feminist transplant living in the Capitol city I have rarely been confronted with this Texas caricature.
Until three weeks ago when something tremendously special happened here.
Closing in on the last few days of Governor Perry’s Special Legislative Session, which he had called almost exclusively as a way of extending the life of a strict anti-abortion bill that had failed to pass in the regular session, the energy in Austin started to change. While other states throughout the country were quietly sneaking in some outrageously outdated anti-abortion language into a variety of unrelated legislation, the people of Texas were making noise—a lot of it.
On Tuesday, June 25th, with the end of the session looming at midnight, Texas Senator Wendy Davis took on what I think is the most inspiring and courageous act of political and personal dedication I have ever witnessed. And, as her filibuster continued hour after hour I sat at my desk and watched the number of viewers on the live stream gradually climb from 1,500 to 6,000 to almost 100,000 before I even clocked out at the end of the workday. As soon as I left work I rushed home to meet two of my friends to change into our pro-choice supportive burnt orange and we headed to the Capitol building.
By the time we arrived, the line of people waiting to get into the Senate gallery to watch Senator Davis’ attempt to single-handedly defeat the bill was already several hours long, snaking through various levels and hallways and rotundas of the State Capitol building. As we slowly made our way closer to the gallery entrance we met people from all over Texas who had come out to ‘Stand With Wendy’ and oppose the restrictive bill which would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks as well as raise standards on all abortion facilities, virtually shutting down all but 5 in the entire state of Texas. There were women and men of all ages and backgrounds, all shrouded in burnt orange, all gathered together patiently waiting for a chance to see Wendy in action. Many people walked through the Capitol handing out bottled water, fruit, and granola bars to the thousands of strangers who had been waiting in line for hours. Others passed out information on various local grassroots organizations, or offered to register people to vote.
At about 10:30pm, with only a little over an hour remaining in the session, Republican Senators challenged Davis’ filibuster on a technicality. As the news of her final strike spread through the Capitol building, the orderly line of people that had been offering us free water and snacks all night suddenly turned into that “unruly mob” of liberal “terrorists” that the Republican leadership expressed such disgust with. The next 90 minutes was a bit of a blur, as swarms of impassioned Texans huddled together throughout the Capitol building cheering and chanting and demanding to be heard. I cannot remember a more powerful scene in my life than that gathering of thousands calling for autonomy and reproductive freedom—thousands of Texas men and women calling for us not to go backwards.
Most of you now know how this part of the story ends.
On Friday, just over two weeks after that night when Wendy and her thousands of supports defeated the bill, it was ultimately passed in Rick Perry’s second special session.
The initial reaction by many, myself included, has been of disappointment, concern, and even a fair bit of anger. For one, the hypocrisy of a party that touts the core principles of small government while spending huge sums of taxpayer money to strong arm the passage of a bill the majority of Texans do not support is both absurd and infuriating. The paternalistic language and condescending tone used (mostly by men) to argue that this bill is ‘in women’s best interest,’ and that they are only ‘trying to protect women’ is reminiscent of a political climate that existed decades before my birth. Not to mention the very real, very threatening affect the passage of this bill will have on the women of Texas, disproportionately those in lower income and rural areas of this massive state.
However, even in spite of these things, I can’t help but feel pride.
I am proud of Wendy Davis and her fellow Senators and Representatives who stood up to the legislative majority in opposition to something they all fundamentally knew to be harmful to their constituents. I am proud of the folks who gathered alongside me in the Capitol that Tuesday, and the following Monday on the lawn, and all of the days since then.
This fight has re-energized the movement for women’s health and reproductive freedom in the previously written off red ‘nation’ of Texas. The passion, engagement, and activism that I have witnessed over the past several weeks will continue and it will continue with even more conviction. In the meantime, I will always remember that Tuesday, June 25th, as the night we all lost our voices in an effort to make them be heard… and ultimately as the night that Texas started to turn blue.
Rachel Citron has a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Washington University in St Louis and attended graduate school at the University of Texas. She currently lives in Austin and is a Producer at Powerhouse Animation Studios.