I was one of 700+ Texans who registered in opposition to Texas House Bill 60 and Texas House Bill 16 at the bills’ hearings on June 20.
I was one of roughly 50 people who stayed until the hearing’s end, after having spent twelve hours in the John H. Reagan building at the Texas State Capitol, listening to people provide testimony for and overwhelmingly against these two bills. I was present for the first minutes of testimony; I was there for the last. (If you’d like to read my live-tweeting of the event, my handle is @shelbylcole)
If passed, HB60 and HB16 would drastically limit Texas women’s access to safe and legal abortions in our state; these bills would effectively eliminate the abortion-performing facilities in the Valley and the Panhandle, which would force women from all over Texas to have to traverse the entirety of the state—spending their time and money, exhausting their bodies and souls—to obtain a procedure that has been, and will continue to be, protected by law. I’m not here to get into the semantics of the debate, but if you haven’t caught on yet, I myself am pro-choice and I’ll be speaking in this post from that point of view.
But I don’t want to use this space to go back and forth here over who’s right and who’s wrong: I want to let you know about the power of Texas women. There’s the old adage, “Texas is heaven for men and dogs, but hell for women and horses.” They weren’t wrong. Our state has tried to legislate our reproductive rights in the most invasive ways possible since before I can remember. I’m no expert on pre-1990s Texas politics, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that this has been true for a long, long time.
Well, last night, we made Texas hell for some men and women on the Texas State Affairs Committee. We made sure that these people, our elected officials, heard our collective voice.
I heard impassioned testimony from men and women—old, young and of all gender identities and sexual orientation—for twelve hours straight. I heard one woman in the hallway say that “If the 700 people who signed up against these bills were allowed to testify, we wouldn’t leave this building until Tuesday.”
A great number of us sat in an overflow room (which quickly gained and lost its own hashtag, #overflowroom130) and cheered at the live-stream of the proceedings down the hall: we cheered when a woman or man gave powerful testimony; when the testifier was acknowledged positively by one of the Representatives (usually Jessica Farrar, from district 148, who did not leave her post at the stand ONCE while her colleagues texted openly, spoke to one another and laughed during moving testimonies and even left the room periodically to probably check on the Spurs game); when a person was called from our overflow room to run down the hall and speak.
I had a friend who celebrated her 22nd birthday in #overflowroom130. We sang her the happy birthday song and we ate pizza and cookies that had been donated from local and national pro-choice organizations. Cookies and pizza aside, this young woman said repeatedly that she was so incredibly happy to be spending her birthday there, with us. When she was finally allowed to speak to the committee, her testimony floored the room. After Representative Byron Cook attempted to shut down the hearing prematurely (I’m actually not really clear on the legality of the stunts he pulled last night to keep us silenced), citing that “Some of the testimonies [were] getting a bit repetitive,” my friend stood up, got in line and waited her turn to tell him this:
“I don’t appreciate you telling me I’m repetitive. As of about twenty minutes ago, I’m 22 years old, and I will be here every time you come for me. I’m sorry I’m doing my civic duty. Come talk to me when you don’t have your job in November.”
And you know what? We are not repetitive. Our testimonies were not repetitive. Every single woman or man who has been hurt by anti-choice legislation has an unique, very personal story to tell. And we made sure our voices were heard, from 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, June 20 until 4:45 a.m. on Friday, June 21. And I have never been more proud to be a Texas woman.