Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This is personal

Note: The title of this blog is in part referencing the National Women's Law Center's reproductive policy public awareness campaign, but also serves as a warning that this blog entry is over saturated with personal experience, opinion, and reflection as opposed to hard facts and analysis. 

Tomorrow, March 2, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt. The case will decide the constitutionality of Texas law HB2, which requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and the clinic facilities to meet building standards for ambulatory surgical centers. For previous coverage of this topic, see "How a million (mostly rural, poor) Texas women became constitutionally irrelevant." If HB2 goes into effect, Texas would be left with less than ten abortion clinics to serve 5.4 million women of reproductive age. Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Women's Health, voices her concern with HB2:
Unfortunately, it is our low-income women, women of color and rural women that bear the brunt of these harsh laws...Texans are now forced to undertake multiple, unnecessary visits to clinics that are now farther away; they take more days off of work, lose income, have to find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation for hundreds of miles.
I grew up in Texas. I love Texas. I will probably move back to Texas. Yet sometimes (many times), Texas is not the best. Texas is definitely not the best when we're talking about abortion access. At the beginning of college, I began volunteering and later worked for Jane's Due Process, a group assisting minors in obtaining a judicial bypass. In Texas, a minor cannot get an abortion without parental consent. A judicial bypass is a legal procedure through which a minor sits in front of a Judge (generally and old, white male) and explains why it is in her best interest to have an abortion and why she is unable to get her parent's consent.

A major part of counseling these young women was helping them locate a clinic and finding a way to get to the clinic. If she lived in a major city and there was a provider near by, there were still multiple issues to face, such as figuring out if and how public transportation could get them to the clinic (many teens didn't have access to a vehicle), or how to get to the clinic without missing school and work (usually not possible). Then, she must do it all over again because Texas requires a waiting period and requires that a minor has an ultrasound by the same physician that will perform the abortion.

However, many young women I worked with lived in smaller towns and more rural communities without any access to an abortion provider. For them, simply reaching a clinic could be the deciding factor in the trajectory of their lives. HB2 brought these issues into the national spotlight, not just for minors, but for all Texas women.

For me, HB2 is much more than part of an upcoming supreme court case. It's been one of the most emotional rollercoasters of my life.

In the summer of 2013, the Texas Legislative session was coming to a close, but not before Governor Rick Perry called a special session to introduce the abortion restricting House Bills 16 and 60 (which later became SB5, and eventually HB2). Immediately, people began organizing a citizens filibuster. Later that night, on Thursday, June 20th, more than 700 people showed up at the State Capitol to protest the new bills. I texted my mom around 11:30 pm, letting her know I wouldn't be home until much later and not to wait up.

About 200 women were allowed to read their stories to the Committee, until the session officially closed a little before 4:00 am. This was the first time I felt like I was ever part of a movement, of something larger than myself. This was what I read about in history books. I felt like a cliche, but I also felt like every single person I met that night was a personal hero. All these women had stayed at the Capitol almost all night, on a work night, to speak out for the rest of the state. I was overwhelmed with the public support of something that had been such an intimate issue for me. As news spread of the citizen's filibuster on twitter and other news outlets, people from all over the world were placing orders for pizza and cookies to be delivered to the women at the Capitol.

On Sunday, I returned to the Capitol to watch the House debates. By now, everyone was wearing orange and the media campaigns had coined the phrase "Don't Mess with Texas Women." I rotated in and out of the gallery as people took turns watching the debate for the next two days. Time went on, and the next thing I knew, Wendy Davis began her 13 hour filibuster in the senate. After an amazing day of filibustering by Davis, right at midnight, the senate began to hold a vote. It was almost impossible to count the vote because the senate gallery and all the protesters outside were literally shaking the Capitol with applause. See the emotional finish to the filibuster here:

In spite of the success of the filibuster, seventeen days later the senate approved HB2. By then, thousands of protesters in orange were surrounding the Capitol, multiple women had been arrested, and security was confiscating tampons at the Capitol's entrance--though guns were still allowed.

Now HB2 is at the Supreme Court and all eyes are on Texas. All my friends and coworkers have flown to DC to attend rallies and demonstrations, bringing out their orange "Don't Mess with Texas Women" shirts, but I'm out here in California at law school. Following the HB2 case taught me a lot about civil procedure and con law as I followed it throughout 1L, but I can't help feeling like it has also shown where I want to be and what I want to do with my legal education. I want to go back into the community, advocating for people who were throwing tampons at the Lieutenant Governor. I don't want to be the attorney sitting in an office in New York City, though I acknowledge the necessity of both of those roles. In the meantime, I'll be here, sitting in a study room trying to stream news coverage of the oral arguments between classes.

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