House Bill 2 is officially heading to the Supreme Court. What’s next?

The Supreme Court of the United States officially signaled Friday that they would hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the case against Texas’ most damaging anti-choice law, House Bill 2. It’s been 20 years since the Court has heard a case concerning access to abortion, the last time being Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey set the legal standard of an “undue burden” –meaning that those who take anti-choice laws to court have to prove that the law creates a “substantial obstacle” to abortion access. In Texas, House Bill 2 has closed swaths of clinics, especially those in West Texas. The Rio Grande Valley in particular would have no abortion provider had the Supreme Court not placed a stay on the law – otherwise, patients would have to make the 200+ mile drive to San Antonio to get the care that they need.

The other component of the case, according to SCOTUSblog, is “whether the Fifth Circuit erred in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health – or any other valid interest.”

The timeline of abortion access in Texas since 2013.

The timeline of abortion access in Texas since 2013.

Since Senator Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster of House Bill 2 in 2013, Texas abortion providers have opened and closed their doors as the law has bounced around the court system, having successful rulings by a federal judge in Austin only to be struck down by the more-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now that the court has taken up Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the nine justices will hear the case sometime during Spring 2016. Like many of the current Court’s rulings on contentious issues, they will likely be split in their ruling, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving as the swing vote. Similar to their order to put a stay on House Bill 2, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito and Justice Thomas will likely dissent, while Justice Ginsberg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan will probably vote to strike down House Bill 2. Justice Kennedy will likely hold a lot of power, and Texans’ access to abortion care, in his hands.

Rethinking violence: HERO and Reproductive Justice

If you’ve ever met a Houstonian, you know we are proud about a lot of things. Houston is the most ethnically and racially diverse city in the nation and unfortunately, we are also the only major city in the nation without a non-discrimination ordinance. After the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) passed in 2014, the Texas Legislature responded with over 20 anti-LGBT bills in the 84th legislature. Anti-LGBT politicians launched an attack to repeal HERO and were successful in putting it up for a vote during an election period with traditionally very low voter turnout.

The civil rights are even up for a vote is terrifying. The people who are restricting access to abortion are the same ones attacking undocumented immigrants and now leading the fight against Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. As of today, Friday, experts are saying that the vote is “too close to call” before Election Day. 

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance would protect people on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, veteran status, age, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation and religion. But right wing politicians and their friends have made it about demonizing the LGBT community.

As a queer woman, born and raised in Houston, I am disgusted at local and state leaders like Dan Patrick who are targeting the LGBT community, and specifically transgender women, and claiming this is about protecting individuals who use public restrooms.

Portraying HERO as the “bathroom ordinance” disregards the fact that over half of the reports filed when HERO was in effect were racial discrimination cases. Almost 20 percent were for pregnancy discrimination. And in zero cases—not in Houston, not in any other city with an anti-discrimination policies, ever—were equal rights ordinances used as a legal defense against assault, despite the prevailing anti-HERO narrative.

The idea that trans women are harassing cisgendered women and children in public restrooms has been a favorite narrative for right wing politicians. This narrative is not only disgusting and false, it is extremely dangerous. We know that hateful rhetoric about certain communities makes people act on these hateful thoughts. When the leaders of our state are perpetuating untrue, hateful narratives about trans women, that is an act of violence. In fact, trans women are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and harassment than any other group, and they’re also the group most likely to be denied victim support services.

One in four college students will be sexually assaulted and many victims aren’t able to report their abuse because of statute of limitations, but there is no outcry from our state leaders about this. Once again, this is not at all about protecting women and all about passing their backwards agenda at the expense of the most marginalized in Texas.

I constantly get asked that as an abortion rights activist, why do I care about and advocate for other issues, like HERO? The reality is that we don’t live single issue lives—these issues intersect. Many pro-choice activists do this work through a reproductive justice lens and reproductive justice can’t and won’t be be achieved until we are able to have full control of our bodies and sexualities. When transgender women don’t even live long enough to plan their own families, that is a reproductive justice issue. When a same sex couple and their children can be denied housing because of their sexual orientation, that is a reproductive justice issue. When an immigrant mother can be denied support services to leave her abuser, that is a reproductive justice issue. These are the issues that are at stake this upcoming election and this is why we need to care.

Tell state officials to stop the Planned Parenthood witch hunt

Extremist Texas leaders continue to use the heavily edited, widely discredited videos created by militant anti-abortion activists as an excuse to attack Texans’ access to reproductive health care. Now our extremist state officials are trying to cut Planned Parenthood clinics from Medicaid and block thousands of Texans from accessing affordable health care.

And they didn’t stop there. In a thinly-veiled media stunt, state officials delivered subpoenas to Texas Planned Parenthood clinics asking for everything from patient records to employees’ home addresses.

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State officials walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Antonio (via Austin American-Statesman).

The political theater is insufferable and is a gross misuse of taxpayer money and state resources.

Will you join us in telling the Inspector General to call off the witch hunt and start putting people before politics?

Austin: support Planned Parenthood by supporting resolution #39

Since 1937, Planned Parenthood has served Austinites with the health care that they’re known for, and now the Austin City Council is taking up a resolution tomorrow (resolution #39) that would recognize the organization’s importance. We oppose any delays or efforts to diminish a clear message from the Austin City Council to stand with Planned Parenthood, and we need you to voice your support. If you’re already headed to City Hall today, that’s great! If not, you can still register your support online, and it’s super easy:

Click on this link.

Enter your name.

Go to item #39. You can search for it, or click on the link atop the page. Check the box  to the left of the item, then press “continue.”

 That’s it! By doing this, you’re helping support Planned Parenthood during a time when the organization is facing massive anti-choice attacks, and you’re also helping keep Austin pro-choice.

When anti-choice protestors outside of my office laughed at my abortion story

This is a guest blogpost from Jeni Putalavage-Ross.

Has your body ever reacted to something before your head understood what was going on? Maybe your heart pounded in your chest as you slammed on your brakes because the car in front of you stopped short? Or you’ve had tears well up while you were watching a commercial and it surprised you because it was just an ad?

I have been having visceral, body-driven responses on an almost daily basis lately as everywhere I turn I see an attack on women’s rights. I open Facebook to share a picture of my kids with family and friends and I see a CNN post about a dumb remark from a politician about abortion. I’m unwinding at the end of the day watching TV and I see clips of Cecile Richards being bullied by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. I look at my Twitter feed and I see women sharing deeply personal stories using the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion.

All of it makes my heart stop and my palms get sweaty as I read the hate the “pro-life” people spew towards anyone trying to respect women’s rights for bodily autonomy. So, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised last week when I was walking back to my office in downtown Austin from a brief lunch break. I was with a new male colleague, enjoying our discussion about a work project when I spotted a commotion on the corner of the street. At first, I couldn’t make out what was going on.

As I walked a few steps closer, I saw a small group of protesters wearing red shirts and waving signs at the cars driving down Congress. “Honk if You’re Pro-Life” read one sign. I really didn’t see any of the others as my heart started racing, my mouth got dry and I felt my body quiver. I felt like they were yelling at me directly. I quickly thought through various options of yelling at them or shaking my fists as I walked by or just seething silently as I went back to work. I chose the silent path. I was with a male colleague and I didn’t want to stand out.

I couldn’t stop my physical reaction though and my eyes got teary and I was shaking a little, so I said something to my colleague about how much those types of protests bothered me. He told me not to let them get to me and went back to his desk. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to Skype him a link to a Texas Observer article sharing my personal abortion story so he could understand my outsized reaction to the protesters outside. He was kind and supportive and we had coffee later that week to discuss what I’d shared with him via that article.

So, my heart stopped again, a week later, when someone in my office posted to a private women’s Skype group, “watch out ladies, those planned parenthood people are back today. this time with more people and pamphlets.” I was confused for a minute because the Planned Parenthood supporters are sometimes in the way when they’re trying to get you to donate as you walk down the street, but they wouldn’t be worthy of a warning. “Do you mean the anti-abortion people?” I asked. “Yes. The defund planned parenthood [folks]”.

I work in the Bank of America building and as I now understand it, the CEO of Bank of America contributed to Planned Parenthood, so now these protesters have decided to show up weekly to urge people to shut their Bank of America accounts as they shove pamphlets in people’s faces, yelling and waving signs at all the people and cars on Congress.

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via Jeni Putalavage-Ross

Last week when they ruined my day, I’d written a note about my experience with a supportive group of women who have also had medical terminations. We have a private Facebook group to support each other as we all trudge on through our lives post-abortion, confident in our decision to end our pregnancies, but often facing harsh judgments from others. A few of these ladies offered some creative ideas about recording the protesters or trying to reason with them. I had them in mind as I decided to quickly print a few copies of my Texas Observer article and silently hand it to the protesters. I had no delusions of changing anyone’s mind, but I also couldn’t let another week go by where I felt powerless and trapped as I went about my normal work day.

So, I Skyped my work group my plans (including a link to my article) and headed downstairs. I handed three of the protesters my article, silently, and then walked to buy a sandwich. On my way back to the office, I stopped to silently photograph each of the protesters, wanting them to maybe feel a hint of the harassment I felt in their presence.

via Jeni Putalavage-Ross

via Jeni Putalavage-Ross

When I returned to my office, I was surprised by the reaction in my work’s Skype group. One person shared an article a good friend of hers had written about his wife who was not able to end a wanted pregnancy after she was found to have an incompetent cervix at 20 weeks and doctors advised them a medical termination might be a humane answer. They were not able to go that route because Texas had passed a bill against abortions after 20 weeks. Others thanked me for sharing my story and offered to go down with me to hand my article to the protesters.

“I just got back from handing them my article,” I shared. “Our building’s security guard rode back up the elevator with me and said one of the men read my article out loud and started laughing,”

That got the women in my office riled up. I was surprised. I’ve just started this job and as a busy working mother of three, I haven’t had much time to socialize or get to know anyone. While they were sympathetic to me, I think this touched a nerve that has been exposed for many by the constant attacks on our rights. It was spontaneously decided that we would create some signs of our own quickly and stand along side the protesters for 30 minutes or so – it was still lunchtime and most people at my office work right through lunch, but a few of them decided this was important.

We made our signs and marched downstairs. I had conflicted feelings. I wondered if we were just feeding the bullies the drama they were seeking. I was also feeling exposed for sharing so much with people I have to see every day. One of the protesting men (they were mostly male) started loudly talking directly at me, goading me about the Planned Parenthood videos. Had I seen them? Did I support selling baby body parts? I reminded him I was the woman who had shared my personal abortion story with him 30 minutes ago. “I understand abortion. More than you ever will.” He continued to harangue me up close and I had tunnel vison on his face, so I was shocked when a male colleague of mine stepped between us to tell the protester to get out of my face.

“I’m tired of the constant attacks. I worry about the future my three little girls are going to have to face. I’m a goal-orientated person and my goal is to protect bodily autonomy for all women. So, I’m going to do my small part. I’m going to share my personal story with anyone who will listen, without shame. I will comment on Facebook posts to correct misinformation. I will stand up to the bullies who ruin my day when they stand in front of my office building.”

I felt a tinge of guilt that someone I work with was jumping to my defense. I thought it was a little bit crazy for me to be standing on the street with a manila folder in my hands with a quote from Hillary Clinton scribbled in Sharpie, “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.—Hillary Clinton (our future President)” I’m a professional woman, a mother of three… what am I doing on the street with a bunch of crazies?

But, I’m tired of the constant attacks. I worry about the future my three little girls are going to have to face. I’m a goal-driven person and my goal is to do what I can to protect bodily autonomy for all women. So, I’m going to do my small part. I’m going to share my personal story with anyone who will listen, without shame. I will comment on Facebook posts to correct misinformation. I will stand up to the bullies who ruin my day when they stand in front of my office building.

My supportive husband is worried about me “Remember, they only care about fetuses. You’re past that stage. They might hurt you.” He’s right, but I think I need to do this. If anyone wants to join me (RSVP here), the protesters say they will be back next Wednesday, 11am-1pm, in front of the Bank of America building on the corner of 6th and Congress in Austin. I welcome backup.