I Lived Through The Passage—And Overturning—Of HB2 In Texas
It’s difficult to describe the enormity of Texas. I’ve tried to articulate it many times over the years, but I never understood just how terribly my words failed me until I attempted to explain its vastness to my Missourian husband. Even for native Texans (my family history in the state goes back six generations), it’s hard to comprehend the true size and diversity of the state. Texans, almost by necessity, are generally content with their immediate surroundings — in Texan-speak, roughly a 100-mile radius. It likely isn’t a lack of curiosity that prevents residents of the northern Panhandle from making frequent 815-mile trips to the beaches of South Padre Island for a family vacation. It’s just a big-ass state.
But despite the geographic and cultural differences that separate the Lone Star state into five distinct pockets, there are moments when its vast and collective power wells up and, for better or worse, falls over all of its citizens with full force. The omnibus abortion bill HB2 prompted one such deluge. The bill, which worked through the Texas legislature in summer 2013, was one of the most restrictive pieces of abortion legislation to have been introduced in recent history. As a line item it was a 20-week abortion ban, but the details were even more troubling: abortion clinics would be required to be up to par with ambulatory surgical centers, and doctors would need to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
I was part of the mass of people at the Capitol on June 25, the day of Davis’ filibuster, contributing paltry ripples into the mass ocean of sound that attempted to block the Senate vote. When midnight struck, ending the special session, I collapsed into exhausted and grateful tears.
Supporters and opponents of the bill made their way to the Capitol in Austin ahead of the June vote, both groups firm in their convictions. Anti-choice groups argued that these were standard practices needed to ensure the safety of women seeking abortions. Opponents rightfully predicted that the legislation would lead to unnecessary closures of the bulk of Texas’ abortion clinics.
You’ve probably heard the details: Wendy Davis’ valiant filibuster, the “unruly mob” of proud pro-choice protestors screaming down the Senate’s vote—which, while successful, only served as temporary delay before the bill passed in a second special session.
But just as it’s hard to put Texas’ size into context, it’s tough to describe the peaks and valleys that I traversed in summer 2013. I was part of the mass of people at the Capitol on June 25, the day of Davis’ filibuster, contributing paltry ripples into the mass ocean of sound that attempted to block the Senate vote. When midnight struck, ending the special session, I collapsed into exhausted and grateful tears.
That night and the days leading up to it, men and women from across the state had listened, demonstrated and shouted themselves hoarse to take a stand. They were from El Paso, Amarillo, Beaumont — representing far-flung corners of the state — because they believed in the fundamental right of abortion access. Without traveling more than five miles from my apartment in Austin, I felt the Herculean effects of Texas’ size and power.
But I was also there less than a month later, on July 10, when HB2 easily passed in a second special session. That elation and sense of collective force had now turned to a weight on my chest.
After HB2 was passed in the law, not much changed in Austin. Even after multiple waves of closures throughout the state, Austin still had multiple abortion clinics operating. The same could be said for all of the major cities: Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio. The women living in or around cities could still safely and legally obtain abortions in the state.
But Texas extends far beyond the Texas Triangle megaregion. Women in the Rio Grande Valley, near the shared border with Mexico, came close to losing all of their abortion clinics. El Paso, on the western most tip of the state, was the only option for women in the vast Big Bend region of the state. And though East Texas women, if they had access to cars, could likely make it to Beaumont or Houston, women in the northeastern part of the state, at certain points, would have had to travel hundreds of miles to get there.
So it hadn’t changed anything for me. But it had changed things for the people who joined me in protest, who deserved just as much simple, easy access to women’s health care as I did, who were fellow Texans. I suddenly felt both a limit, an oppressive boundary in the state I loved, and an overwhelming helplessness within its never-ending state lines.
Three years after Davis’ filibuster and after nearly half of the abortion clinics in the state had shuttered, the Supreme Court struck down the clinic requirements, calling them an undue burden. And once again, I feel as if a valley is slowly sloping upward. But this time, I have an acute understanding of how much work is left.
Many of the rural communities that lost their clinics could face difficulties finding the staff and funding to reopen. The 20-week abortion ban, which was never challenged by the courts, is still in place, and can disproportionately affect low-income women without access to transportation or money needed to obtain an abortion.
And even as I am just being able to wrap my head around what needs to be done in my own home, I’m already looking out into the distance, hoping to see the ripple effects of Texas’ defeated abortion law in other states, far beyond even our own incomprehensible borders. It’s hard to say exactly what will happen next. But here’s hoping this ruling will have Texas-size implications.