This past summer, you probably heard about the filibuster led by Texas Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, who stood on the floor for 11 hours to try and stop a controversial Texas anti-choice bill called SB5.
What makes a Texas Senator stand for 11 hours to try and stop a bill becoming law? Senate Bill 5 (or SB5), which was temporarily stopped by Senator Davis’s filibuster and others opposing the anti-choice bill in June, eventually became the Texas law HB2 in a subsequent special session called by Republican Governor Rick Perry. A provision in this law requires clinics that perform abortions to obtain something called “admitting privileges” at local hospitals that have surgical facilities, and also requires doctors to adhere to what critics call a questionable and outdated protocol for giving patients the abortion pill. There are also provisions requiring changes as to what women must undergo leading up to the procedure.
At the end of October, Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel repealed the two provisions regarding “admitting privileges” and the abortion pill, but another highly controversial part of the law remained: no abortions will be allowed after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Texas. Then in a higher court on Nov 1st, a panel of three judges of the 5th US Court of Appeals vacated Yeakel’s decision.
The decision made by the panel of three judges is now being contested by Texas abortion providers, who have sued the state of Texas. The final decision about this law currently rests with US Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who asked the state of Texas to respond by Nov 12th, which they did, defending their action arguing it would not significantly block women’s access to abortion. The plaintiffs say it will block up to 20,000 women from having access to care. Scalia has given no response yet; he could rule on the injunction himself or refer it to the full Supreme Court for a decision. If Scalia does not reverse the 5th Circuit’s decision or refer it to the whole court, the plaintiffs may request that another Supreme Court Justice review the case.
The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and women’s groups across the country have vocally opposed the Texas law, calling it “draconian” and saying that it will force women, especially low-income women, to seek out dangerous and now illegal methods to end unwanted pregnancies. Under HB2, some estimate that up to 90% of Texas clinics providing healthcare and abortion services for women may have to shut their doors. As of now at least 14 Texas clinics have stopped providing care to women because of the law, according to Whole Woman’s Health, which operates clinics in Texas. Now, women seeking abortion in Texas who can still receive care and are less than 20 weeks pregnant must receive mandatory state counseling of a minimum of three hours which includes adoption alternatives, mandatory ultrasound exams where they can likely hear the fetus’s heartbeat, and a 24-hour waiting period before receiving the procedure.
One group that pushed for the Texas bill to become law was the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC), who received $1.5 million in funding from CPPR, a now renamed organization linked to the conservative Koch brothers and their Freedom Partners. According to a thorough recent report by Adele Stan and shared on Bill Moyers.com, “CPPR has long had deep funding ties to anti-choice organizations.” Such a contribution was made possible thanks to changes in campaign finance rules made with the 2010 Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
According to the National Catholic Register, Elizabeth Graham, Director of Texas Right to Life, said in October: “Legislators worked so hard to pass HB2, because they are not only concerned about protecting the unborn, but also about women going to abortion clinics with sub-standard conditions and unsanitary equipment.”
Texas Senator Wendy Davis, who has now stated that she will run for Governor in 2014, challenged those who support the law, saying in November that she is genuinely pro-life because her concern is not limited to fetuses alone like her opponents, but that, “I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry about their children’s future and their ability to provide for that future.” Davis continued that she is deeply concerned about the women and families of Texas who will be impacted by this law.
According to a poll taken among Texas voters, the majority opposed this anti-choice bill shortly before it became law. The poll found that “of registered voters, 63 percent say the state has enough restrictions on abortion and 71 percent think that the Governor and legislature should be more focused on the economy and jobs.”