This piece first appeared on The Representation Project June 26, 2013
Here’s What Happened In Texas Last Night
For everyone who stayed up late last night to watch Texas Senator Wendy Davis destroy filibuster Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) on the State Senate floor, the tension was so palpable you could cut it through the YouTube live feed with a knife. After eleven hours of talk-pacing the Senate floor, Davis’ filibuster was challenged by Senate Republicans on grounds of her not staying germane to the topic at hand, which is apparently how grown adults in the Texas State Senate announce they’re ready for a snack and a nap. There followed two hours of debate on whether or not this was a valid point, during which the word “germane” and its various conjugations were used so often that it’s been retired for the next month so it has a chance to rest and recuperate.
The last ten minutes or so built to the kind of dramatic climax that keeps Aaron Sorkin awake at night: after a lot (a lot) of parliamentary inquiring and consistent avoidance of getting her questions answered, Senator Leticia Van de Putte (new hero) asked of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (acting Senate President), “at what point must a female senator raise her hand, or her voice, to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?” The crowd packed into the State Capitol Building went, to use the scientific term, completely apeshit, and their cheers carried over past midnight, causing a ruckus long enough to delay a vote on SB 5 and keep it from passing. Teamwork, people. It’s all about teamwork.
At this point, confusion took over; a vote was held, and despite a gallery full of citizens supporting the filibuster and the witnesses in the room to the voting happening after midnight (12:03 to be exact), Republicans insisted that it took place before. The time and date of the vote were changed within minutes on the Texas Senate’s website, though not before the original and updated pages were screencapped. Meanwhile, senators filtered out, saying they weren’t sure if they even voted or what they voted on. Watching politics in action is kind of like watching puppies at play: they have no idea what’s going on, they just bite each other a lot, and will eventually break your favorite lamp and then pee on it.
For the next two and a half hours, no one knew what was happening. At one point, Senator Kirk Watson addressed the people in the rotunda, laughing as he told them no one inside the chambers had any idea what was going on. Lolz? The Senate floor YouTube feed had no audio, or anything substantive happening, and soon the Internet discovered that a guy in the rotunda, Christopher Dido, was live streaming everything on Ustream. At one point as many as 30K viewers were tuning in from around the world (when the Ustream ads weren’t interrupting HISTORY HAPPENING). CNN’s coverage during the evening’s events seem to have been more focused on exploring the calorie counts of muffins. It appears that story’s hashtag was somewhat less popular on Twitter than #standwithwendy.
After several tense and confused hours, at 2:18 am Austin time Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, came out and announced that the official ruling put the voting time after midnight, striking down SB 5. Cheers erupted in the Capitol’s rotunda, from the exhausted and persevering supporters (the hardcore fans) who remained to see the final outcome. The YouTube feed showed senators filtering back onto the Senate floor, and word spread to Dido that his Ustream feed was the only live video from inside the Capitol building that actually showed things happening (and had audio). The Senate ended its session, the YouTube feed turned off, Wendy Davis came out and spoke her gratitude to everyone still in the rotunda, and finally, Dido’s feed turned off as well. Everyone put their computers away and went to bed, except the bloggers who stayed up until 6am writing, wishing some waffles would just make themselves and fly into their mouths because this is the 21st century, after all, how has science not made this happen yet?
Of course, this stands as a victory for women’s rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive care, though the intensity and viciousness surrounding this bill is cause for serious concern (even more so than Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg’s mistaken belief that hospital rape kits could be used to perform abortions). Particularly disturbing is the length to which Senator Davis had to go to defend women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies, and that Texas State Republicans went to, to try and revoke those rights, especially since the alternate was simply having a longer conversation about the merits of a bill like this. That’s right: Texas Republicans weren’t just fighting to get the bill passed, they were also fighting against the possibility of having more time to exchange thoughts and ideas.
It is alarming to see so much effort going into legislation meant to control the private choices of private citizens. Abortion is something that, first and foremost, affects the woman whose body and life are sacrificed to a pregnancy. Historically, it is clear that a lack of abortion rights won’t stop them from happening; it will just endanger the lives of the women who feel trapped into using extremely unsafe methods. More alarming is the willful ignorance of the seriousness of pregnancy complications that threaten the mother’s life, and the number of women who die because the law chooses for them that their unborn, incomplete fetus has a higher value than they do.
Women’s lives, potential, and that of their children are compromised seriously by restricting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, and whether or not she feels ready to gestate a person in it. In the incessant debate over abortion, fetal rights are discussed far more than the personhood of the woman whose body they inhabit. While an oppressive bill like SB 5 has an entire State Senate and internet audience wrapped up in a filibuster, there is nowhere near as much fervor to level the gender gap when it comes to pay scale, or to ensure the safety of women who need special legislation to prevent judges from ruling in favor of a rapist on the basis that the woman was “asking for it.”
A debate like the one over SB 5 is really about respecting women as equal persons. We don’t have debates like this over male reproductive issues. The idea that a group of politicians think it appropriate to decide for others what decisions to make in their own private lives is offensive and inappropriate. At the heart of this ongoing abortion debate is an inequality in perception; that women are inferior, that they can and should be told what to do with their bodies, and that they are not valuable enough to society to choose contributing to it over becoming a mother when they don’t feel they could or should. In order to resolve our collective issues around abortion, we must all first come to respect women as equal members of society. Only on mutually respectful footing can we strive to move towards any kind of resolution.