Texas women will remember

Nathaniel Norris

Editor's Note: This piece is one in a series of op-eds written by UT students that The Daily Texan will be publishing in response to the ongoing debate in the Texas Legislature over enacting stricter abortion regulations.

The action began last Thursday, when more than 800 men and women from around the state of Texas gathered at the John H. Reagan Building to provide personal testimony in opposition to two bills, House Bill 60 and House Bill 16, which would severely limit access to abortion for millions of Texas women, at a hearing before the House Committee on State Affairs.

HB 60 would raise standards for clinics that provide abortion services to an unattainable level, ultimately resulting in the closure of more than 35 clinics statewide, leaving only five abortion-performing clinics open. HB16 would ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest. These two measures were ultimately combined to create one omnibus bill, Senate Bill 5.

The hundreds who gathered were participating in what they called a “citizen’s filibuster,” intended to prolong the process and ultimately run out the clock on the anti-abortion measures. The personal testimony, however, was anything but simple filler.

Many of those testifying were telling their stories in public for the first time, and most of those stories were heartbreaking. With hundreds still waiting to testify and half of the committee members out of the room, Rep. Byron Cook, chairman of the State Affairs Committee, announced that the testimony was getting “repetitive” and that he was no longer going to let everyone stand up and speak. The bills ultimately made it out of committee on a 7-2 vote.

After the legislation passed through the State Affairs Committee, House and Senate Republicans expected smooth sailing for SB 5. After all, the special session includes a lower vote requirement, as it’s intended only for the consideration of emergency legislation, and the Republican Party holds a nearly two-thirds majority in both chambers. What Republicans didn’t expect was one of the most awe-inspiring stories of grassroots activism in this state’s history.

Thousands of people traveled to Austin from across the state, wearing orange in solidarity with Texas women. They packed the galleries, crowded every open space and poured out of every stairway. Orders of pizza, salads, coffee, cookies and more were called in and delivered to protesters from as far away as Wisconsin.

Those in the Capitol were not alone, as many more watched live-streamed coverage of the proceedings. House Democrats, with the help of thousands of enthusiastic protesters, were able to push final passage of SB 5 to 11 a.m. Monday, which, after the required 24-hour waiting period, leaves the Senate only 13 hours to debate and vote on final passage Tuesday. Republican senators had hoped to suspend the rules and forego the waiting period but were unable to rally enough votes for suspension.

Now, Texas women are counting on one of their most trusted legislators, Sen. Wendy Davis, to stop the bill in its tracks with a 13-hour filibuster. A successful filibuster would push SB 5 past the special session’s midnight deadline and leave Republican supporters with no alternatives.

Texans have proved over this past week that the work of state legislatures does not go unnoticed. Gov. Rick Perry has the power to call a special session and tailor the agenda himself. He does not have the power, however, to pass that agenda outright. A woman should have the right to make important decisions about her own body and her own health, without the “help” of state legislators. Republican politicians in Texas seem to have forgotten that women can vote. I’m sure that women in Texas will be happy to remind them that they can when elections roll around.  

Norris is a Government senior from Sachse, Texas.