It has been an emotional and draining few weeks while the Texas House and Senate have been debating over HB2, which would greatly restrict access to abortions for all women and restrict access to women’s health services for women in rural areas. There were many amazing speeches, photos, memes, rallies, protests, and heroes that came from those pushing for women to maintain access to health care, safe abortions, and rights to their own bodies. The moment that sticks out the most for me is the speech by Kirk Watson at the last reading of the bill before it passed (along party lines, of course). I encourage you to read it as he touches on everything I want to say on this issue.
I truly feel this law will not hold up in courts as it goes against the rights granted by Roe v Wade… I also strongly believe the tides are turning here in Texas and soon this state will become a swing state. It will be very interesting to see how many people remember what happened this summer when elections roll around in 2014. I know I will.
This has been an extraordinary, tough few weeks. Nerves are frayed. Tempers are short. People want to get out of here. But, we’re here and we should do all we can to get this right.
So let me start with some good news.
We still have time.
We still have time to stop and think about what we’re doing.
We can still talk about what this is really about, and what we’re trying to achieve.
Yes, this is a hard issue. But we debate hard issues on this floor all the time – schools, taxes, paying for water and roads.
Our rules and traditions allow us to have those debates. They keep any group of us from getting everything we might want. They force us to come together, to look at things in new ways, and to be creative in figuring out solutions. They help create progress for everyone, not just wins or losses for a few.
But the debate over House Bill 2 and its predecessors has been different.
And, I think, there are two things that set it apart.
One is the emotion that’s been laid bare over the past few weeks. That’s been painful to be a part of, honestly. I like you folks. And the emotion of this issue – the anger and resentment that it’s generated … it’s been hard. It’s been hard on a lot of us.
Those feelings are as strong as feelings about any other policy issue we may face.
And they’re even more personal, even more immediate.
They are, in short, a major – if not the major – reason we have traditions and rules. Our traditions and rules ensure that emotion doesn’t carry the day. Our practices – formal and informal – help make sure that our constituents stay ahead of our politics.
Unfortunately, a lot of those traditions and practices have been discarded over the past few weeks.
That unruly process, I think, is the second thing that’s set this issue apart and put us in this position.
The majority in this chamber, and the president, couldn’t get everything it or he wanted in the regular session. You couldn’t endanger the existence of 88 percent of the clinics that regularly perform safe and legal abortion procedures. You couldn’t pass an unconstitutional 20-week ban. You couldn’t pass this poster child for heavy-handed, big-government regulation.
In short, under our regular rules, traditions and practices, the majority couldn’t pass a bill that would ban safe and legal abortion procedures in much of Texas, and that would make them much more difficult to obtain everywhere else.
And let’s be honest: that’s what this bill is about. The indignant claims and the consistent spin that this bill is about women’s health and safety are bogus and, I’m sorry to say, sometimes a little bit hypocritical.
The true agenda of HB 2’s authors and sponsors, to reduce access to safe and legal abortion procedures, is spelled out everywhere: from the speeches on the South Steps; to the speakers who are invited from outside Texas to press conferences; to petition drives and social media posts that declare the purpose and then go viral before they can be clarified and qualified; to the little symbols that are worn on lapels and placed on committee room daises.
Be honest, members. Be transparent. This is about implementing government regulations that are as extreme as anywhere in this nation. It’s a power grab – the exact sort of power grab that our rules and traditions are meant to prevent.
We’ve lost so much common sense, so much thought, so much decorum, and so much of what makes the Texas Senate special. And what did we get in return? This bill – and its supporters’ ability to declare victory without compromise, no matter the impact on Texas and Texas women.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that the traditions and precedent were being followed. Let’s imagine there was a blocker bill in this non-redistricting special session, as in previous ones, and that House Bill 2 was dead because of it.
Well, at that point, those of you who wanted to end safe and legal abortion would have had to come to those of us who want to protect women’s constitutional rights.
You would have had to work with us. You would have had to be creative about solutions that achieve our goals as well as yours. And you would, I believe, have endorsed legislation like what we’ve proposed today.
You would have joined us to ensure parents know what their children are being taught about sex so they can be part of that critical process. You would have helped us ensure that sex education is based on science and evidence. You would have passed an utterly common-sense bill that would give teen moms 15-years-old and over – again, these are teenagers who’ve already given birth at least once – the ability to get contraception.
This bitter fight has focused only on the supply of safe and legal abortion procedures. There’s a better, more effective solution in reducing the demand for them. And I assure you, there’s a lot more common ground.
Because not one of us on this floor likes abortion. All of us want to prevent it.
Would our proposals ban safe and legal abortion? No. Would they make it harder for women to access safe and legal abortion? They would not.
What they would do, though, is exactly what so many on this floor claim to want: they’d prevent abortions. But they’d do it by empowering women and educating Texans, not by punishing women or making it harder for them to seek out services they have every right to receive.
All these years, and all these needs. And now, we get an interim charge.
More than one of you has asked in the last few weeks, earnestly and in good-faith, why people believe you’re waging a war on women.
It’s because the only solutions you’ll consider are the ones that limit women’s options.
It’s because women see you driving them back into a dark, painful, terrifying time of unsafe procedures and quiet, shameful, months-long exiles – a time when abortion was neither safe nor legal.
It’s because women are connecting the dots between this decision and others that left them with less health care, fewer health providers, and inadequate remedies under state law if their bosses were discriminating against them. Women’s healthcare still hasn’t recovered from the decisions of the last legislature.
And women don’t understand why you keep coming after them. It’s not just politics to them, members. It’s their lives.
As I’ve said before, there’s no justifying all of this by saying that you care about women, you’re married to a woman, you love a woman, or you are a woman – so your intentions are pure even if your vote will harm countless women in this state.
All of us on this floor – like all of us in this state and this country – have been talking about this issue for a long time. Please know that I’ve listened to you and I’ve heard you. I’ve tried hard to put myself in your place and to understand your position. I see how you focus on the event – the stand-alone event – of a pregnancy. I sincerely understand that you see it as a live-giving event that deserves protection from the state.
What I don’t understand is why you would build these regulations and laws around this event, but you won’t acknowledge the continuum of the life of the woman who’s experiencing it. How can you impose these laws on individuals’ bodies and choices – all in the name of life – with scarcely a thought to the life of the woman who’s choices and options are being taken away?
After all this debate, I still don’t think that’s fair. And I know it isn’t constitutional.
The things that happened before the pregnancy matter. So do the things that will happen after. And the woman who’s experiencing those things should, within reasonable and constitutional bounds, have the self-determination to decide what to do about them.
That self-determination – those basic human rights and the access to the care that insures those rights – deserve protection from the state.
So take this chance to do that, members. Take this chance to stop. Take this chance to think. Take this chance to listen not just to the voices of partisans and failed presidential candidates, but also to the people in your districts and across Texas.
You don’t have to pass this bill. There’s still room, and there’s still time, for all of us to come together.
Thank you, Mr. President.