A quiet congregation of more than 200 people stood at the Texas Capitol building’s south gates Saturday protesting the funding cuts that family planning organization Planned Parenthood will receive in Texas because it provides abortion services.
Local activist Kaci Beeler organized the rally as a response to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last week that allows the state of Texas to exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, which funds health services for low-income women. The decision overturned a ruling by a lower court that prevented Texas from excluding Planned Parenthood from its Women’s Health Program.
Beeler said she felt stressed and helpless when the ruling was overturned.
“We’re moving backward from previously established policies. There is a lot of power in being able to reproduce and [legislators] want to control it,” Beeler said.
Beeler, a 25-year-old Austin artist, had never organized a protest before, but felt compelled to speak out about women’s health issues after the ruling, she said. Beeler said she publicized the protest with a Facebook page, and it grew quickly after that.
“People felt the same way I did: helpless and confused. They wanted to do something but they weren’t sure how,” she said.
While both men and women attended, women were asked to wear a target as a visual representation of feeling “targeted for having the power to reproduce,” Beeler said.
Austin business lawyer Brenda Collier donned a target during the rally. Collier graduated from UT’s School of Law in 1982. She said she wasn’t surprised by the Fifth Circuit Court’s reversal based on the court’s previous rulings on women’s issues.
“Women will die,” Collier said. “They will not be able to find healthcare screenings, contraceptive options or safe abortions.”
Because Planned Parenthood served almost half of the 110,000 women benefiting from the $40 million Women’s Health Program, the remaining health care providers will have to dramatically increase their capacities to keep up with the anticipated demand.
Collier works mostly with entrepreneurs, but also volunteers her representation to people unable to afford attorneys, including minors who need to obtain permission from the court for an abortion. She said some of these women rely on Planned Parenthood for health care.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision was a “win for women,” a sentiment Collier said she did not share. “People are entitled to their own opinions, but they need to keep their laws off our bodies,” she said. “People see this as a moral issue, but it’s not. It’s about freedom and privacy.”
The decision to exclude Planned Parenthood from state funding came one day after U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s claim that in the case of a “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Denise Henry said this intensifying conflict over women’s rights in the news brought her down from Lampasas to volunteer.
Henry, a rally volunteer who was raped in 1971 and became pregnant as a result, took offense at the statement.
“I thought I’d come to a place in this world where we wouldn’t have to fight for these rights,” Henry said. “When it becomes legislation, that’s when I sit down and cry. Once it’s done, it’s harder to change but not impossible. Nothing is impossible.”