Archive | July, 2013

Wendy Davis is my new hero

1 Jul

(I’d intended to blog about this earlier, right after the filibuster, but I’ve been rather busy lately. However, the stuff I’m going to talk about is still important, and will continue to be important, so I may as well say it now. Content note: “pro-life” bullshit, miscarriage, preventable death)

Last week, lawmakers in Texas tried to enact a bill that both angers and terrifies me. Most Texans do not support the bill in question, but this is apparently irrelevant to the people who supposedly represent those Texans. This bill, SB-5, would introduce a whole raft of restrictions to abortion access. New rules on the requirements a facility must meet to perform abortions would force nearly 90% of Texas abortion clinics to close, meaning many women would have to travel hundreds of miles to access abortion care. The bill would limit access to “abortion-inducing drugs”: note that many anti-choicers consider the morning-after pill to fall into this category (in defiance of the scientific fact that this is not how it works), so it’s possible that this could also make it harder to get hold of emergency contraception. And it would outright ban all abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, again based on bad science.

Now, abuse of science does have tendency to make me angry, but it’s only a small part of what angers me about SB-5. What makes me angrier by far is the fact that the 20 week ban provides no exceptions for rape. That it gives no exceptions for women who would otherwise face permanent disability, unless it can be proven that the women’s lives are in danger. That it would criminalise desperate women in dire circumstances, and that, when combined with the restrictions on abortion facilities, it would make abortion nigh-impossible for any woman to obtain.

What terrifies me is the fact that when I say, “abortion would be nigh-impossible to obtain”, I’m really only talking about the kind of abortion that’s safe and legal. The other kind, the unregulated and dangerous kind, will still be there. And desperate women, with no other options in sight, will turn to this as their last remaining hope. Some of them will die because of it.

There are other women who will die, too. Women who want children, but whose pregnancies go wrong. Take the case of Savita Halappanavar. When she begged doctors to terminate her pregnancy, it wasn’t because she didn’t want the baby. It was because she had already lost the baby she wanted, and now she was miscarrying and in pain. But her fetus, while non-viable at that point, still had a heartbeat. Since abortion is illegal in Ireland, doctors refused to remove the fetus until the heartbeat stopped. They waited several days; days in which Mrs Halappanavar’s cervix remained dilated. From an infection risk standpoint, this is equivalent to an open head wound. Mrs Halappanavar developed septicaemia and died. Had doctors been allowed to remove Mrs Halappanavar’s fetus when she arrived at the hospital, she likely would have lived. Ireland’s abortion laws theoretically allow exceptions when the mother’s life is in danger, but as far as I understand, Savita Halappanavar’s life was not in danger at that time of initial arrival. Her life only became endangered when the inaction of doctors allowed her to contract a potentially fatal infection. So exceptions “only if the woman’s life is in danger” just aren’t good enough. They don’t provide a sufficient safety net.

Under abortion bans, a woman trying to become pregnant is not safe. Pregnancy is always risky, but an abortion ban makes those risks so much larger. If her wanted pregnancy turns lethal, she might find that her doctors are unwilling or unable to help.

Under abortion  bans, a woman trying to avoid pregnancy is not safe. No method of contraception is 100% effective (not even abstinence, since deciding to abstain does not provide magical protection against rape). If she does become pregnant, she has one of two choices: risk her life on an unsafe abortion, or be forced by her government to carry and birth a child against her will. (Which, again, could result in lethal complications for which she cannot get help. And this is supposed to be “pro-life” how?)

Under abortion bans, no fertile uterus-owner is safe. Whatever we do, we cannot win.

Which is why Wendy Davis is my new hero. Last week, she stood up in the Texas senate, ready to filibuster this horrific bill into oblivion. She did this knowing that she might face repercussions: her office was firebombed last year shortly after she participated in a Planned Parenthood rally; her response was, “It’s a sad but true fact of public service that we have to feel concerned sometimes for our personal safety. But we can’t let that stop us.” So she didn’t let it stop her. She stood, and she spoke against the bill for nearly 11 solid hours. The rules of filibustering meant that she could not stray from the subject of the bill during that time. She also was not permitted to eat, drink, take bathroom breaks, sit down, or even lean on her desk for support. What she did was a massive feat of endurance and dedication.

She’d initially planned an even larger feat: her intention was to go for 13 hours, but she was forced to stop by her opponents after 11. And at this point in the evening, it became clear that Wendy Davis wasn’t the only hero in the Texas senate. Because her allies continued to stall the vote on the bill: asking questions, raising points of order, making speeches of their own. At quarter to midnight, the public gallery joined in: when they erupted in cheers over a remark made by Senator Leticia Van de Putte, the noise level in the senate became too high for senators to take the vote that would have moved the bill forward. This vote did eventually occur, but not until after midnight: too late to be valid. Too late for the bill to come into law. So everyone in that chamber who stopped it: they’re my heroes. And everyone outside the chamber who contributed their stories – public testimony read by Wendy Davis as part of her filibuster, a powerful demonstration of just what the bill would mean to the lives of women – they’re my heroes too. Each one of them played a part in making it happen.

But apparently that wasn’t enough. Because almost immediately, Governor Perry announced another special session for the Texas Legislature. This session will include SB-5, and will last for 30 days: far too long for a filibuster to prevent this a second time. It started today.

I don’t know what happens now. Everyone who tried to stop the bill last week was a hero, and I hate to feel as though their heroism was for nothing, but it looks like the bill won’t be stopped. And yet. And yet. Now there are people watching. Wendy Davis’s filibuster seems to have provided a symbol, a rallying point, or something, for all the people who want things to change. And the fight isn’t over yet. Dear Texas: please don’t stop the heroics.