Thousands of Texans Flock to State Capitol for Reproductive Rights


Read all of RH Reality Check‘s coverage of the recent fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

An estimated 5,000 protestors, wearing shades of orange from burnt to bright, flocked to the state capitol building in Austin Monday as lawmakers gaveled in to the second special legislative session of the year. Once again, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has placed an omnibus anti-abortion access bill—this one numbered HB 2—on the session’s call, directing legislators to pass new laws that would shut down all but five Texas abortion clinics, ban abortion after 20 weeks, place unnecessary regulations on medical abortions and require abortion providers to gain admitting privileges at local hospitals.

The Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all strongly oppose the proposed legislation, which failed last week after Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis’ many-hours-long filibuster ended in a 15-minute rally cry from reproductive rights supporters in the senate gallery.

And yet, despite public opinion, Perry and his fellow Republican legislators press on.

Native Texan and former Dixie Chick Natalie Maines kicked off the afternoon with a guitar-accompanied rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before launching into Not Ready to Make Nice, the group’s 2006 response to critics who didn’t like the band’s stance against the Iraq War and then-President George W. Bush. Hundreds of voices, many cracking through tears, joined Maines in the chorus:

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round

Jewish and Christian religious leaders later spoke about the moral imperative of reproductive choice, while state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), who hung a wire coat hanger on her microphone during debate in the Texas house last week, led the crowd in a chant of “Women will not be bullied!”

But everyone was waiting, of course, for Wendy Davis—with no one more excited, perhaps, than the rallier who tied a pair of pink-and-orange Mizuno running shoes to the pole of a giant Texas flag. After state Sen. Davis was silenced by a point of order last Tuesday, every public appearance has become an opportunity to make that evening’s signature chant, “Let her speak!” a reality.

Wendy Davis speaks to the crowd.

Wendy Davis speaks to the crowd.

“I believe in Texas more than ever,” Davis told the crowd, thanking them for their support during the filibuster. “It was your voices—lent to me—that made it possible for me to stand those 13 hours.”

After Davis’ closing remarks, the crowd broke into an impromptu dance party as Aretha Franklin’s Respect blasted through loudspeakers. For some, it was time to head home or back to the office. But many stayed to line the inside of the capitol rotunda once again, eager to find a seat inside the house or senate gallery. And many more people—as many as 1,000—returned Monday evening for another demonstration, this time a march that wrapped its way around downtown Austin.

Their words rang off the buildings lining historic Congress Avenue as the sun set over downtown: “Whose choice? Our choice!” Austinite Julie Gillis, who attended the evening march, told RH Reality Check, “Like, how awesome to be asked, right? Thank you for asking whose choice this is! It’s about time someone did!”

HB 2’s supporters—who’ve taken blue as their rally color—are expected to rally in favor of the legislation Tuesday before the House State Affairs Committee takes up the bill in the afternoon. In hopes of preventing another citizen’s filibuster, committee chair Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) has limited public testimony and plans to adjourn the meeting at one minute after midnight tonight.

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