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War on Women Met by Peoples Filibuster
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It was only a matter of time before Texas women put a stop to the War on Women. Everywhere else in America, Republicans have lost elections by restricting access to birth control and abortion and making ignorant remarks about rape. That has been going on in Texas for a long time with no electoral blowback, but that’s changed because of the “People’s Filibuster.”
“People are voting with their feet,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said of pro-choice protestors who jammed the capitol. “I haven’t seen anything like this in any state.”
It’s about time.
In 2011, Texas Republicans passed a law requiring that women seeking abortions be examined with a transvaginal sonogram first, but the reaction was nothing like what happened in Virginia where more than 1,000 protestors silently linked arms around the capitol to oppose what they called “state rape.”
Also that year, the legislature banned Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving state family planning funding, forcing 50 clinics to close. A poll showed 59 percent of Texans opposed the move against Planned Parenthood, but voters didn’t take it out on Republicans.
Rape remarks cost Republicans senate seats in Indiana and in Missouri, but Ted Cruz won his by 15.9 percent even after coming out against a rape exception to abortion.
If it seemed like the War on Women would never claim any political casualties in Texas, it wasn’t because Texans are overwhelmingly anti-choice. In fact, 52 percent of Texans support legal abortion in all or most cases, according to a recent poll. But after losing 100 straight statewide races, Democrats seemed to think their cause was hopeless. Republicans were bringing the War on Women to Texas, but Texans weren’t fighting back.
That changed when Perry pushed a bill that would force 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics to close and ban the procedure after 20 weeks. Because he did it midway through the month-long session, Democrats could to kill the bill by stalling. But to do that, they needed people—regular citizens by the hundreds—to drag out a committee hearing with testimony.
A funny thing happened. Women showed up by the hundreds from all over Texas. So many showed up to testify against the bill that the Republican committee chairman tried to stop the hearing after seven hours because, he said, the testimony had become “repetitive.” That went over as badly as telling a woman her concerns were repetitive always has. The so-called “People’s Filibuster” captured the public’s imagination. People across the country sent pizzas to the protestors, and a hash tag of the bill number trended worldwide on Twitter.
When Democrats tried to add rape and incest exceptions, GOP Rep. Jodie Laubenberg said, “The emergency rooms ... have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out.” Rape kits, of course, gather evidence used for prosecutions and do not terminate pregnancies, but Rep. Laubenberg’s remark was more than medically illiterate. Her mangled answer was another example of “rapesplaining,” the condescending way Republicans convey scientifically ludicrous beliefs about rape in an effort to restrict abortion rights.
By the time the bill came before the state senate, only 13 hours remained in the special session, affording Sen. Wendy Davis a chance to filibuster. She had not long to go when Republicans stopped her, claiming that talking about abortion was not germane to her discussion of the abortion bill.
Democrats ran out of stalling tricks about 10 minutes shy of the midnight deadline. That’s when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte incited a riot by asking, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?” The hundreds watching from the galley exploded in ear-splitting outrage, making it impossible for Republicans to pass the bill.
The People’s Filibuster won a round, but Perry has called another special session. No one thinks trending hash tags will win the war, but at least, and at long last, the battle has been joined.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.