Standing with Texas women: One man’s perspective

By Carisa Lopez

Photo by Carisa Lopez

The views and opinions of the following first-person account are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Politically Inclined.

By Ali Abbas Khorasani

I joined thousands of Texans who rallied (legally) on Monday to oppose anti-access abortion legislation. Seeing as nobody expected the first day of special session part deux to be particularly important for actual legislation, it was shocking to see how many orange-clad abortion-rights advocates showed up on the capitol grounds.

The rally, under the title “Stand with Texas Women,” was publicized and organized by Planned Parenthood Action of Texas.

The Rally

When I first arrived, the pro-“life” red tape brigades were praying, singing and dropping off members around the perimeter of the rally. I found it rather ironic that they showed up and taped their mouths shut — normally not the best way to convey a message, especially since they were outnumbered at least 500 to 1. Each group consisted of about 30 members, and they were joined by numerous families with stroller-riding children, almost like a community picnic, in support of the bill.

The Texas Rangers patrolling the Stand With Texas Women rally.  Photo by Alex Clark

The Texas Rangers patrolling the Stand and Walk with Texas Women rally.
Photo by Alex Clark

After meeting up with some (University of) Texas women and joining the “unruly mob,” I was greeted by unprecedented energy and positivity, although we were surrounded by imported Houston mounted police (and their horses’ excrement). These Texas Rangers were especially cautious about keeping the south-facing steps of the Capitol clear, constantly asking people to move. I was there to support Texas women, not to lead, so I let the ladies from the steps shuffle into the crowd in front of me.

The American Civil Liberties Union was handing out “Stand with Wendy” pink shoe signs to anybody who wanted them, and several people brought coat hangers and snarky, meme-based protest signs. It seemed fairly clear what the general opinion of these Texans was: complete opposition to legislation that, most  felt, would throw our state into the dark ages of coat-hanger abortions.

Sadly, too few around the state realized the healthcare aspect of the bill, which would likely slash the services Planned Parenthood would be able to offer — services I could benefit from myself.

The March

The march was much more loosely-organized than the “Stand with Texas Women” rally. It was difficult to determine where to meet, whether the organizers secured a permit and whether the police escorts were actually there to escort us. I joined a small crowd of about 50 people at the front gates of the Capitol grounds with a handful of orange-shirted abortion-rights advocates, since sidewalk marches are legal without a permit. On the other side of 11th Street, I saw the cliché mutilated-fetus pro-“life” signs being held by counter-protesters (a group of less than 20 people), which made the friend I brought with me uncomfortable.

By Carisa Lopez

Photo by Carisa Lopez

Shortly after the 8 p.m., I noticed a large crowd coming from the front steps of the Capitol. We quickly joined the front of the march, chanting “Whose choice? Our choice!” This was a true human rights march—the entire width of our side of Congress Avenue was densely packed with abortion-rights advocates.

I found it quizzical that the majority of the cheerleaders were men, but the “Whose choice?” chant was a call-and-response, and many women in the crowd shouted “MY choice!” Another popular chant was “kill the bill,” but the cadence didn’t carry quite as well. Far too often, women seemed discouraged from speaking and fell into antiquated roles of followers, rather than taking the lead.

As we approached stopped traffic, we were frequently greeted by honking horns, cheers, peace sign, and flashing traffic lights. The streets were lined with people on their cell phones and personal cameras snapping shots and video. As we approached the more “ritzy” areas downtown, two men shouted down at us, “We like babies.” Overall, though, most of the bystanders were supportive, and many occupied the front sidewalks of restaurants and the street-side apartment balconies to watch the procession.

As we began marching uphill after turning a corner, I realized how populous the march was. I could not determine the end of the crowd, since people kept coming around the corner. What was more shocking, however, was the complete absence of media attention — there were no professional cameras in sight.

We returned to the Capitol grounds and grouped up on the front steps, chanting and committing ourselves towards the cause. It was empowering and inspiring seeing just how long it took for everyone to return.

The blue-shirts and their mutilated-fetus signs were absent once we returned. I would be discouraged, too, if I were them.

Registration

When I woke up the next day, my feet were sore and I saw lines of salt on my shirt. I knew it would be another long day of action.

The line of orange-shirts waiting outside of the Capitol on Monday morning. By Ali Abbas Khorasani

The line of “orange-shirts” waiting outside of the Capitol on Monday morning. Photo by Ali Abbas Khorasani

I was notified by a friend that, although Stand with Texas Women called us to organize at 1:30p.m., the “blue-shirts” were being allowed to register early. I made it to the capitol as soon as possible.

According to the rules, people must register their opinion on the Capitol’s Wi-Fi network. I registered my opinion on an iPad kiosk in the underground Capitol extension. “Orange-shirt” organizers were positioned at major checkpoints in the hallway, guiding us toward the kiosks and overflow rooms. After submitting my opinion and trying to find a seat, though, I realized just how sizable the opposition was.

It was ironic that, in the “hole” of the underground seal, blue-shirts filled the circle and gathered in prayer. A number of them were pushing strollers in the waiting area for the overflow rooms, and I noticed several “accidentally” bump into orange-shirts. A woman in (blue) high heels even marched briskly behind me, on my way to a bench, to try and trip me — either that, or she had severe trouble walking in a straight line and minding personal space.

And while the “unruly mob” was generally being civil, waiting in line, and chatting silently, the religious-fanatic crowds were singing hymns, passing out plastic baby dolls, blowing the Shofar, taping their mouths and scooting their baby strollers into people’s ankles. It was offensive and cultish, and I only wish they knew this bill wouldn’t save any fetuses’ lives.

Hearing and Testimony

I entered the overflow room E2.028, which started out as a 60-40 blue-orange makeup. It soon became obvious most of the blue-shirts in the room were part of the same church group.

Catholics in the room soon started praying a Chaplet of Divine Mercy on the rosary, which, after the fourth decade, disconcerted the previously-silent orange-shirts enough to bring us to speak in solidarity. The woman to my left had an abortion during her previous marriage, saying she was not mentally healthy or financially stable enough to raise a child.

She was accompanied by her son and wore a wedding ring from her new marriage. She said she wouldn’t be able to raise her child properly or have a successful marriage if she didn’t have the first child “taken care of.” A woman in front of me said she had to choose the adoption route, but acknowledged it was her choice to do so, as it should be with anybody, especially since she was sued for custody rights to the child.

The row behind me was filled almost exclusively with middle-school-aged girls, and at least half of the pro-life population in the room was likely below voting age. I could tell many of the young kids were scared of orange-shirts, because their parents probably labeled us as baby-killers. One toddler walked towards me and quickly waddled away when I smiled at her.

A member of the committee, in light of remarks by GOP members that nobody’s opinion would be changed, said that the committee would actively listen to the testimony to decide on the fate of the bill.

After the hearing began, there was a fairly-extended floor debate between committee Democrats and Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Murphy), the bill author. This gave the committee enough time to bring a few field experts to the front of the line for testimony (including a group of orange-shirts sharing the room with me). Whenever medical experts took the podium, the plastic-fetus-toting lady to my right plugged her ears — which really doesn’t lend any strength to her position.

Numerous testimonies were given, and, try as Democrats might, the Republican committee chair refused to convert any of the speech to text because it’s not “normal.” The hearing was held in a 100-seat room “for safety purposes,” an excuse generated after a few tense seconds of mental deliberation. And since the blue-shirts were let in the hearing room early, they held a majority of the seats for the first few hours of testimony.

After the blue-majority in my room began applauding for pro-life testimonies, I felt I had to evacuate, and joined the “Om the Dome” meditation circle upstairs. I was quickly rejuvenated by a few minutes of silence and breathing (and was happy this prayerful demonstration wasn’t “in the uterus” of the capitol).

I returned to E2.028 to find that most of the remaining orange-shirts had left, so I decided to find a friend in another room. E2.012 was a polar opposite to my previous location, and fanatic orange-shirts made snarky under-their-breath comments about why every pro-bill testimony was ridiculous.

The overwhelming sentiments of the pro-bill witnesses consisted of appeals to emotion and religion. Only two of the witnesses I viewed actually used legal precedent or statistics, and they were shaky precedents and stats at that. One witness (who was complimented for having an exotic accent by Rep. Laubenberg) stated “babies feel pain because I say they do.” Several compared abortion medications to their dogs’ prescriptions, even bringing in the pills (tucked into the occupied baby papooses they were wearing). Putting icing on the cake, a GOP committee member suggested that a husband give testimony for his wife to allow more people to speak, which caused my co-observers in E2.012 to shudder.

The bill’s opposition had a wide array of appeals, from rejecting the single-minded pro-life religious sentiments, citing the legal problems with the bill’s wording, warning of the coat-hanger “instrumented” victims of the past, and calling out Rep. Laubenberg as “the worst bill writer in the history of Texas.” E2.012’s audience broke out in applause after that comment. The bill was attacked from every angle, using facts and abstaining from delay tactics and dodgy semantics, unlike some of the bills supporters. Many delivered an ultimatum — victims’ blood is on legislators’ hands, so the legislators will be voted out.

By Carisa Lopez

Photo by Carisa Lopez

After the blue-shirts, the Shofar blower, and the priests and pastors mostly left the area, all the in-kind support for the orange-shirts arrived: stacks upon stacks of pizza, cookies, and drinks (which was much-appreciated, since I hadn’t eaten in eight hours). Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) eventually called for an accurate representation of witnesses to be called to the floor—seeing that about 60 percent of witnesses were against the bill but about 70% of the testimony was in support of the bill. Of course, the committee chair denied this request as well.

I had to leave the hearing before 11 p.m., but right before I got to bed, I discovered the committee chair had decided to call a vote on the bill while two committee members were absent. In spite of comments made at the beginning of the hearing, it was plainly obvious the voting majority of the committee had ignored the majority of opinion and testimony on this issue.

Aftermath

Seeing as the House committee had concluded in support of the bill, there was not much left to do other than organize against it. I felt hopeful at the beginning that, maybe, possibly,representatives would actually listen at the hearing, rather than just sitting and staring.

I have signed every petition I can find against this legislation, and contacted my senator and representative, but it seems unlikely they will do anything about it. Consistent stubbornness seems to be a powerful tactic for the GOP. I am beginning to wonder if, after being labeled an “unruly mob,” the opposition should actually break some rules. It seems to be the only tactic that works.

Ali Abbas Khorasani is a nanoengineering student pursuing a PhD at George Mason University. He graduated from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas with a degree in biochemistry and is actively involved with human rights and social justice issues.

Posted by on July 4, 2013. Filed under Recent News,Top News,Women. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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