Every once in a while, something happens that challenges your entire view of the order of the universe. For instance, this past week the U.S. Senate actually passed something. Meanwhile, in Texas, liberal Democrats and the abortion rights movement won a huge political victory.
If we keep this up, soon we will hear that in Africa, migrating herds of wildebeests stopped moving and began settling into trailer parks.
Let's take a look at Texas, where the now-famous 11-hour filibuster by State Sen. Wendy Davis defeated a major anti-abortion bill, lifted the long-dead spirit of the state's Democrats and created many news articles in which the word “thrilling” was coupled with “State Senate.”
The next day, however, Gov. Rick Perry announced that he was calling a special session for this week to take up the bill again.
Perhaps Davis can pull out her pink sneakers and filibuster for two or three weeks. I wouldn't count on it. But that doesn't mean we didn't see something important happen in Austin.
The Texas anti-abortion tear has followed the same arc as in many other states. First came the assumption that women just needed to have the situation explained to them. So the Legislature required them to look at an ultrasound of the fetus before any abortion. The law didn't have much impact, so the lawmakers moved on to Stage 2: Remove the option.
The bill that failed to get passed in Austin last week would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Meanwhile, the clinics that perform early-term abortions would have been subject to new health and safety requirements that would force most of them to close.
“We're really regulated already,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs five abortion facilities in the state. “Primarily what we're talking about in this bill is the physical plant — the size of the hallways, locker rooms, closets.”
She estimates that it would cost, at minimum, $4.5 million to bring her facilities up to the new, unnecessary code.
The bill also requires that doctors performing abortions have hospital-admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic in question. In many places, that can't be gotten.
“Most hospitals want you to admit at least 10 patients a year,” Miller said. “Over the last 10 years, I've had two emergency transfers from our facility in Austin.”
This has been going on all over the country, and if the high drama in the State Senate in Texas does nothing beyond making the story clear, it'll have done a lot.
In Austin, as in state capitals from North Dakota to Alabama, the bill was described in debates as a simple public safety measure. (“I am trying to look at what can actually improve the quality of care.”) But there wasn't all that much effort to conceal that the real intent was eliminating the abortion option.
Americans have conflicted attitudes toward this issue, but one thing consistently clear is that there's no majority support for a wholesale abortion ban. Politicians like Perry will only get their way if the public doesn't get the point.
Ditto on family planning. As part of a scorched-earth war against Planned Parenthood, Texas wiped out funds for contraceptive services for poor women.
“The damage has been wrought, and it's going to take a long time to undo it,” said Davis.
When she brought that up during her filibuster, the lieutenant governor ruled she had strayed from the point.
Texas Democrats, who haven't won a statewide race in two decades, are now eyeing Davis as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014. Perry took time out to attack her during a speech in Dallas to the right-to-life movement, which we will try to resist noting took place the day after Texas conducted its 500th modern-era execution.
Perry claimed that in fighting for abortion rights, Davis, the daughter of a single mother and herself a single mother at 19 who got herself through college and Harvard Law, “hasn't learned from her own example.”
You will not be stunned to hear that Davis takes a different lesson from her story. “The Planned Parenthood clinic on Henderson Street in Fort Worth was my sole source of health care for four to five years when I was a young adult,” she said. “Consider a 19-year-old single mom who wants to be smarter about her family planning so she can go to school and move forward with her career. Had I not had those services available to me, I would not be standing where I am today.”
Let the country tune in on that debate, and then we'll have a real leap forward.