Orange-shirted pro-choice protesters fill the Texas legislature. Photo by Nick Swartsell, Texas Observer.
The Texas House passed some of the nation's most restrictive abortion-access policies this Monday—as the bill #SB5 heads to the state Senate on Tuesday, hundreds of Texans are turning out to protest and there's a major call to action at the capitol building. Here's the background on the controversial bill:
1. These laws are hard to fight politically because they don't make abortion illegal—a majority of Americans support keeping abortion safe and legal—but instead restrict access to abortions in a confusing way. Texas's proposed bill will ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, require all abortion clinics to meet surgical center standards (an expensive change that could force many of the state's clinics to close) and makes it illegal to prescribe the abortion pill remotely (which is important because 92 percent of Texas counties already don't have any abortion providers). Plus, it requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital no more than 30 miles from the abortion clinic, effectively excluding out-of-state abortion doctors. All of this adds up to making abortion an impossible option for a large swath of Texans.
2. Texas isn't a bizarre anomaly. There's a tendency on the coasts to write off states like Texas. They'll pass any kind of silly law in those red states! But this isn't a red state vs. blue state issue; similar laws are being passed almost everywhere. The proposed laws are part of an extremely effective nationwide movement to criminalize abortion on a state-by-state level. Instead of focusing all their energy on repealing federal abortion protections, right-wing groups have been chipping away access to abortion in legislatures all across the country. These tactics work well—Oregon is now the only state in the nation that has not passed any post-Roe v. Wade abortion restrictions.
3. The protest against these restrictive policies is huge! Hundreds of people have turned out to protest these proposed laws. Protesters wearing bright orange shirts packed the legislature until an absurdly late 3am hearing and attempted a "people's filibuster" of the laws. This "Feminist Army" is exactly the kind of high-profile pushback the groups writing these laws hope to avoid by making them wonky and seemingly not extreme, but all the protests have forced the issue onto national headlines.
4. Politicians shot down ideas that will actually reduce unwanted pregnancies. Rather than just criminalizing abortion, the smarter idea here would be to address the root issues that lead to women seeking abortions in the first place. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned and science has shown that the country could reduce the number of abortions by 60-70 percent if we would just provide women free birth control. But when Texas Representative Senfronia Thompson introduced amendments to the bill that would fund comprehensive sex-ed in schools and make birth control cheaper for women, they were both shot down.
5. We need to move forward—not just react. This whole fight in Texas shows just how hard it has been in recent years to expand our reproductive rights. Instead of being able to advance ideas that make healthcare more accessible and equitable for all women, pro-choice groups have been rushing around putting out flames as they're forced to react to try and quash these restrictions state-by-state. The astounding turnout among protesters in Texas proves that there are plenty of people committed to making sure access to safe abortions doesn't depend on your zip code. Whether or not the Texas bill becomes law, where do we go from here? How do we change the colors on this map?