Last Thursday, a Texas Republican shut down a committee hearing on a version of the state’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, telling hundreds of gathered citizens that their testimonies opposing the bill were “repetitive,” and that he didn’t feel like listening to them any longer.
In what has been billed as a “people’s filibuster,” Texans brought a diversity of stories to the podium that night, throughout a more than ten-hour hearing that could have stretched into late the next day had all 700 or so witnesses been given an opportunity to speak. The bill in question, HB 60, would ban abortion after 20 weeks, shut down all but five abortion clinics in the state, require abortion providers to secure hospital admitting privileges, and make medical abortion all but impossible to prescribe and obtain legally in the state.
But somewhere around the seven-hour mark, Rep. Byron Cook grew weary of hearing positive abortion stories, pleas for exceptions for women with mental health issues and indictments of Republicans’ wholesale disdain for sound, mainstream medical science. The Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly oppose Texas’ proposed legislation.
Testimony on HB 60 stretched until nearly 4 a.m., when Rep. Cook abruptly adjourned the meeting and stormed out through a back door.
Today, RH Reality Check brings you the silenced testimony from the hundreds of Texans—many of whom had been waiting over 15 hours—who were denied the opportunity to be heard by their elected representatives.
I was one of those Texans, and this is my testimony:
My name is Andrea Grimes, and I am here representing myself, testifying in strong opposition to HB 60. I am one of Rep. Naishtat’s constituents here in Austin. I believe the practical effects of this bill are clear: it would significantly reduce access to safe, legal abortion in the state of Texas. And that scares me.
And I’m a Texan lady, so not a lot scares me. I’ve done some barrel racing, I’ve seen big ole’ snakes out in the hill country and bar brawls on Sixth Street. But this legislation is terrifying, and I’ll tell you why.
The so-called “preborn pain” act ignores sound, mainstream medical science supported by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The restrictions on the administration of medical abortions would prevent Texans in rural areas from safely and swiftly obtaining medication that would allow them to end their pregnancies without multiple unnecessary visits to a doctor’s office—or if this legislation passes, an ambulatory surgical center hundreds of miles from home. And I have yet to hear from a legislator who can provide any evidence whatsoever that shows abortions performed in ambulatory surgical centers are safer than those performed in licensed abortion facilities.
There is a reason you’re hearing from me, and women who look and sound like me, today. I am an affluent, white, English-speaking woman with a flexible job who lives in an urban area. I will always be able to get an abortion if I need one. But the Texans who will be disproportionately negatively affected by this legislation are not able to take time off work, arrange child care, and drive hundreds of miles to sit in a cold, sterile room—either in hopes of getting an abortion or in hopes of testifying at a Capitol committee hearing.
But, in closing, what scares me most of all is the confusing and appalling fact that some of the members of this committee argued earlier today that intent is not important when drafting legislation. If that is the case, I wonder why these bills include language about a compelling state interest in fetal pain in the first place? If we are legislating without intent, we are shooting blind. And as a Texas lady, I know one of the things we’re real proud of here is our aim.
I would like to respectfully ask that you vote to keep state government out of my uterus.
RHRC invites others silenced by Rep. Cook during the people’s filibuster to send in their unheard testimonies to firstname.lastname@example.org, so that they may be shared publicly.
Below are unheard testimonies sent to us for publication. We’ll update this post throughout the week with your words.
Testimony of Katherine Marie Waters:
Thank you, chair and committee for allowing me to testify. My name is Katy Waters and I am a constituent of Representative Naishtat. I’m here to testify against HB 60 and HB 16 because I know that abortion is a deeply personal issue that should be left to a woman, her faith and her doctor, NOT politicians. Additionally, I trust that anyone who is capable of becoming pregnant has the right to decide what is best for their personal health, including abortion.
I am deeply disturbed that during the several hours I was at the Senate hearing, I continually heard Senators speak of a “higher standard of care” as the goals for this omnibus bill. But then even using evidence-based protocol as opposed to FDA guidelines was protested until the last minute of the hearing. I am happy to hear that this has been changed in the House version.
As if this wasn’t problematic enough, and motives ARE important, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst sent out a tweet later that read “We fought to pass SB5 through the Senate last night and this is why” with a map of where the 5 lone health centers providing abortion would stand- admitting that this is a backdoor abortion ban. This is not about women’s safety or a higher standard of care at all.
This backdoor abortion ban will negatively impact residents in rural areas of our great state. Texas is over 250,000 square miles. I know that 5 abortion clinics will not be able to accommodate the need for abortion in our state. When abortion is outlawed it doesn’t make it go away- it just makes it unsafe. Desperate people have been known to render desperate deeds. These bills are not about women’s safety or health. These bills are about political gain.
Importantly, we know these bills didn’t have the steam to make it through the regular session, and it is a true disgrace that these are being ramrodded through a special session that requires only a majority vote. Texas taxpayers are not only paying you a per diem during this special session, but we will also being paying for this law to be struck down as unconstitutional as constitutional law experts have suggested it will be.
I am here today because I care about Texas women. This bill will effectively end access to a safe and legal, constitutionally protected, medical procedure in this state. If we really care about women’s health or even reducing the need for abortion, let’s talk about sex education, health care or even raising the minimum wage! Let’s be honest- this bill will simply be a hindrance to well-off Texans who will be able to travel for the services they need. Low-income Texans will bare the brunt of this legislation.
I ask that you trust Texas women to make their own health care decisions, and I strongly urge you to oppose HB 16, HB 60 and any other legislation that restricts access to safe and legal abortion.
Testimony of Jesse L. Mabus:
thank you chair and committee for the opportunity to speak. i am jesse l mabus, i am a constituent of elliott naishtat and i am in opposition to hb60. i am here representing myself. i am also here because i am a father of a 16 year old daughter. i am here because i am a lover, a brother, a friend, and a feminist. i am also a son, a son whose family has been in the midst of a civil war for years.
i am a native texas son, whose native texas father told his native texas mother she couldn’t get pregnant the “first time”. i showed up nine months later to prove him wrong, but, not before she tried to abort the fetus with quinine, something her best friend said would work. a friend who was privileged enough, prior to roe v. wade, to travel to mexico to get an abortion so that she could graduate high school. access to honest sex education in texas schools would have helped her see through all that disinformation.
my battered mother awakened my nascent feminism, when, at 9 years old, i watched her change the locks on our doors before my abusive father returned home, his clothes left on the doorstep. she filed for a divorce the next day. they remarried and he never struck her again. i wasn’t so fortunate. but this isn’t the civil war i am here to talk about.
abortion has been a long-standing and intractable battle between us for decades. while i was training to defend women’s clinics from operation rescue, who came to tejas for the rethugnican national convention in houston – they were utterly shut out, not one clinic was closed – she was working the phones at a “crisis center”, dissuading scared and confused women from a medical procedure that was their right.
she objected to abortion because of her new-found fundamentalist religious views. she like many other privileged women her age have chosen to work to undermine the reproductive rights of their daughters, their granddaughters, and women who are less privileged than they are. rights they themselves fought for in their youth, and rights which they themselves benefited from.
most importantly i am here for my 16 year old daughter because i know she and so many of her friends would and have spoken out in opposition to this bill and others introduced in state houses across this land. they get it, they understand what equal means, they see through the false morality that seeks to stigmatize women’s sexuality and to keep them enslaved in the long outdated fetters of patriarchy.
abortion has been with us since eggs and sperms have gotten together. abortion is a social good, and it is the legal right of women in this country.
Testimony of Amanda S.:
Twenty-five years ago, my mother was a married woman who found herself pregnant.
What should have been a happy occasion was turned in to a grim choice by two very important facts: First, that her husband (my father) was an abusive alcoholic. Two, that the family was barely getting by as it was, even with two incomes.
My mother considered the issue very carefully. If she suffered another severe beating, she might lose the child anyway. And if she was seriously injured to the point that she needed medical care, there was no one to take care of me…except her abuser.
She made a difficult decision but one which she has never regretted. She already had one beautiful daughter, she told me, and she’d do anything she had to in order to keep me safe.
So I was left with a neighbor one afternoon while my mom went to the clinic, had her #abortion performed, and returned home with red, puffy eyes but unshaken resolve. By the time my father came home, you couldn’t tell that anything had happened.
Consider the effect #SB5 would have had on my mother. SB5 would close the clinic in Corpus Christi, making it necessary for my mother to arrange transportation to San Antonio, someone to watch me for a far longer period of time, and–most importantly–exponentially increased the likelihood that my father would’ve found out.
This is the event that shaped the rest of my life: if my mother hadn’t had access to safe, legal abortion, I have no doubt that she could’ve been killed–even accidentally–by my father. I could’ve been next, or I could’ve been orphaned. I’m thankful that because this safe, legal medical procedure exists I never had to find out.
Testimony of Susan Cummings:
Thank you, chair and committee for allowing me to testify. My name is Susan Cummings and I am a constituent of Rep. Wayne Smith. I’m here to testify against these bills because
1. They are not necessary
2. The medical procedure these bills seek to restrict is legal.
3. The people of the state of Texas support a women’s right to choose and her right of access.
Requiring abortions to be performed within 30 miles of a hospital at which the doctor has admitting privileges will not make women safer. Why? Because having a legal abortion is a less dangerous procedure than giving birth.
A study released Monday reveals that women are about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of a legal abortion at a free-standing clinic.
Using government data & statistics from the Guttmacher Institute from 1998 thru 2005, the study reveals that one woman died during childbirth for every eleven thousand babies born.
During that same time, only one woman out of every one hundred sixty seven thousand (167,000) died from a legal abortion.
Since the state does not require women to submit to hospital births (where surely they would be safer), why is the state considering a requirement for them to be close to a hospital for an even less dangerous procedure?
The restrictions in House Bills 16 and 60 fly in the face of the wishes of Texans.
A February poll conducted by the Texas Freedom Network shows broad support for a woman’s right to choose and her right to family planning services, birth control, and abortion. That support crosses political, racial, generational and geographic lines.
In addition, Texans expressed strong support for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, include both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.
Given the public’s distaste for intrusive government and given the fact that legal abortion in this country is less likely to kill a woman than childbirth, the increasing restrictions force me to conclude that the issue isn’t one of safety at all. The point of this legislation is the prevention of women’s access to an important and legal medical procedure.
One last note, the integrity of the process by which these bills have been introduced to this special session mocks our system of representative government and offends our sense of fairness.
Testimony of Jean Friedman:
Hello. My name is Jean Friedman, I represent myself, and am against house bill 60. I am a constituent of Rep. Paul Workman.
What if young girls grew up in a culture where they felt valued and respected?
What if all young people were educated about their sexuality in a way that fostered understanding and responsibility instead of shame and ignorance?
What if all women knew how to protect themselves and their bodies and felt protected by society and not attacked by it?
What if all women knew that no matter where they lived they had access to safe choices about their own bodies, allowing them to be in control of their bodies, choices, and lives?
What if, indeed. Instead it is the 21st century and we are still, still, having to stand up and fight for and demand what should be our basic rights.
Our government was founded on the principal that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”
Well, this government in Texas has become destructive to these ends. This government no longer represents me, my lawful rights, and I withdraw my consent and wish to alter it.
A government is ultimately judged by how it meets the needs of the least among us. And in that, the Texas legislature has failed utterly. It consistently puts forth and enacts legislation that punishes those in need, making already extremely difficult circumstances excruciatingly unbearable and now potentially deadly.
A democratic government has no business – in fact no right – to dictate my choices. Be very careful what rights you as our legislature, and those of you who support this legislation – begin taking away. If you think it is ok to restrict some rights; then you have just agreed to all of our rights being up for auction and possibly eliminated based on personal opinion only, for these rights will no longer be protected by law.
So agree with me, disagree with me – I am not here to change your mind about abortion, but to remind you exactly what we stand for in this country: freedom and protection by and from the government we choose to represent us. If we want to remain a democratic country, we must protect all our citizens, keep them safe, and allow them the personal freedom to make their own choices.
Thank you for your time.
Testimony of Geraldine Mongold:
My name is Geraldine Mongold, representing myself and Faith Action for Women in Need, and I am against HB60. I am in Donna Howard’s district. Mr. Chairman, you tell me that you have treated me and the others here with respect.
Sir, I know exactly what respect looks like. Respect is not calling a special session in order to ram anti-choice legislation through the legislature. Respect is not closing most of the abortion clinics in the state and calling it an improvement in women’s health. Respect is not trying create a de-facto ban on abortion, when safe and legal abortion is supported by the clear majority of Texans. Respect is not burning up the three minutes people are allowed to speak with your own reiteration of the procedures or grand-standing or cutting them off before their time is up. Respect is not wandering in and out of the chamber when men and women tell the most intimate stories of their lives. Respect is not shoving an ultrasound wand inside a woman’s vagina for a painful, medically-unnecessary state-mandated rape because she should have the bad fortune to need an abortion or even because she is miscarrying her wanted child.
I grew up in a Texas that had scientifically accurate sex education. I grew up in a Texas where a well-equipped and fully funded Planned Parenthood was around the corner to provide the high-quality health care and family planning that an uninsured teenager needed to ensure she could manage her fertility and make her own choices in life. I used to be so proud of being a Texan. But now, I am ashamed. When friends tell me “if you’ve got a uterus, you’ve got to leave that state,” I have to agree that they speak the truth.
I fear for my daughter’s future in a state that values the right to carry a gun on the college campus she attends over her right not just to bodily integrity and choice, but her right to life itself. Because HB60, if enacted will cause even more deaths of Texas woman, already suffering from cuts to women’s health programs and the failure of this state to expand Medicaid coverage. This bill is a hateful attack on Texas women and their families and must not be enacted.
Testimony of Aimee Arrambide:
Thank you Chair Strauss and Committee for allowing me to testify. I live in House District 121 and I am a constituent of Chair Strauss My name is Aimee Arrambide and I am hear to speak about abortion providers because I believe there is a misconception that abortions providers are motivated by money and their own political agenda. My father Dr. George Arrambide was an abortion provider. He was born in Chicago to a single Mexican immigrant woman who worked 3 jobs at a cannery during the depression to provide for her three children. My father put himself through college and then medical school and started off his career as an Anesthesiologist. After a twenty-year career as an anesthesiologist he went through residency again, while supporting his 6 children, and became an OB GYN in the early 70s. In addition to a full-time OB GYN practice, he began performing abortions in the mid 70s shortly after Roe v. Wade in San Antonio and traveled once a week to provide reproductive health care at a clinic in Laredo.
Growing up, I knew my father was a doctor and delivered babies, but I didn’t understand the extent of his profession until one day when I was in the 5th grade. A fellow student and her parents told me that my father killed babies and I was aghast. I knew he delivered babies, he delivered me, but I didn’t understand what they were talking about.
I went home and confronted my parents at which time they explained to me what an abortion was. I didn’t understand. My father explained, that while keeping a baby or putting up a baby for adoption were options many girls and women chose, sometimes that was not truly an option. Many of his patients were really young, or didn’t have the means to provide for a child, and that being pregnant could end many of the opportunities that could better a woman’s life, like getting an education.
I still didn’t really understand so my father decided to take me to the clinic to Laredo to give me an idea of the women he helped each week. We drove through an impoverished town that I could hardly believe was in the United States that I grew up in. The waiting room was overflowing with women and girls from all over south Texas. Girls that had no other options for reproductive health care except this one clinic, where there was only one doctor, my father in hundreds of miles. The girls were as young as I was, around 12 and I could tell that they did not grow up with any means.
After this trip to Laredo, I realized that my father was a hero. He helped women and girls that had nowhere else to go and who didn’t have many options. He provided care, health services and an option that could help make their life better.
The first year I lived in Austin, I got harassing phone calls from a gentleman looking for Dr. Arrambide’s son. When my roommate told him, that Dr. Arrambide’s daughter lived there and not a son, he demanded to speak to me. He said that he worked with my father and owed him money. He wanted his home address, so that he could send the check. When I told him that my father had worked at the same address for 20 years and he could send it there, and when I asked him for his contact information, he refused. That was when I realized just how dangerous my father’s job really was.
Contrary to what some witnesses may say, the doctor’s who provide abortions are heroes and you cannot do this work unless you truly believe in women. My father wore a Kevlar vest to work every day, had an FBI Agent assigned to us, and chose houses in gated communities because he received threats from the violent opposition every day.
In order to work one day a week in Laredo, he paid more in malpractice insurance than the money he made there.
My father was a hero. He believed that every woman deserved a chance to make her life better. He believed in access to education and choices that would facilitate that. My father provided comprehensive sex education and knowledge and choices for me that allowed me to go to college, go to law school, and plan my family when I was ready. Because of his influence and what he did for women, I have two beautiful boys that I am ready to raise in a world that I strive to make a better place.