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Abortion Politics, Filibusters, Two New Heroes -- And Five Tips for Anti-Choice Politicians

07/01/2013 07:35 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2013
  • Steve Heilig Health care ethicist, epidemiologist, and environmentalist

"She was a state senator Tuesday morning. By Wednesday, she was a political celebrity known across the nation. But also hoarse, hungry and thirsty." --The New York Times

Late on a recent evening, along with about 180,000 other people, I watched a live telecast of the Texas state legislature in action, and was riveted. Here's what was being shown, as summarized by the National Abortion Rights Action League:

Texas state senator Wendy Davis stood up and spoke for 11 straight hours in a courageous filibuster to block the Senate from voting on an onerous law that would have closed almost 90% of the clinics in the state. In the final dramatic moments she was joined by a chorus of protesters who shouted down the Republican leadership and stopped them from voting on the bill until after the midnight deadline had passed, killing the bill. This horrific bill would have shut down all but a handful of the abortion clinics in Texas, and Davis' filibuster was a historic moment in the fight for abortion rights. No one who was watching will ever forget it.

Indeed. As the Times put it:

Ms. Davis, 50, has known long odds and, for Democrats, was the perfect symbol in a fight over what a woman can do. She was a teenager when her first child was born, but managed as a single mother to pull herself from a trailer park to Harvard Law School to a hard-fought seat in the Texas Senate, a rare liberal representing conservative Tarrant County.

A video of the victory is here. It is about as inspiring as politics gets these days, not that that is saying much -- but Davis is now undeniably a justified political star, a heroine, even.

But there was another such hero there too, I thought. When the male senators finally succeeded in breaking Davis' filibuster on a questionable technicality, with less than an hour to go before deadline, heated arguments erupted over protocol. The pro-choice representatives were being largely ignored, until Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte finally stood and asked, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice in order to recognized by the male colleagues in this room?"

That's when the cheering began upstairs -- and it never stopped until the bill was dead at midnight. So Van de Putte ignited the final rally that averted an absurd bill, and she is a heroine too. This was one of the very few times I have felt truly inspired and emotional while watching politicians at work.

Of course, this battle is not over, as the anti-choice Texas "leaders," including Governor Rick Perry, have already taken steps to bring their bill back. If it passes next time, appeals could take it to higher courts where, if precedent is an indication, it would be declared unconstitutional. Which means that this whole thing is most likely meaningless political anti-choice grandstanding.

If I were a Texan, and if the anti-choice guys would listen to me or anybody like me, here's what I'd tell them in a nutshell:

Dear Sirs:

1. Your just-defeated late-term abortion ban bill, SB5, was opposed by the Texas Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These are not "radical" or even "liberal" groups. They represent scientifically trained experts who have also taken an oath to do what is best for their patients. Perhaps you should listen to them before you try such nonsense again.

2. Please study some history regarding what you propose -- banning an abortion procedure will do little-to-nothing to stop it. In fact, since women will have to travel to get what their doctor says they need, it will likely result in more such procedures, including later and more costly ones -- just not in your jurisdiction. Is that what you really want?

3. Please try this brief thought experiment: Your daughter, or wife, or some other women you care about, finds herself pregnant with a severely defective fetus that will not be likely to survive in the long or even short run, and endangers her own health or even life. Her doctors reluctantly conclude that the safest course is to terminate that pregnancy. But then they are told, sorry, some politicians have banned that choice, so let's hope for the best. What might you then think of such politicians?

4. Consider this -- Planned Parenthood, for one example, prevents many more abortions than all the "pro-life" activism ever has. The abortions they do provide are a backup when all their other services and efforts don't quite work, or reach the people -- women and men -- who need them. We all would like to decrease the number of abortions -- to make them "safe, legal, and rare." And we know how to do that -- by decreasing unwanted pregnancies! So, if you are serious about this goal, fund quality sexuality education, make contraception and other reproductive health care freely available to all who need it, and yes, if need be, make sure abortion is safe when all else fails.

5. The ban you proposed, and say you will propose again, has already been declared unconstitutional in other states. It seems you know that, and are just grandstanding for your own self-interest. There are plenty of other issues where you might actually be able to do some good, and not just be wasting time and taxpayer money. So, if all else fails, at least consider these two well-known quotes:

When the Supreme Court voted to legalize abortion and in my words, bring it out of the back woods and put it into the hospital where it belongs.... it was the best thing in the world. - Betty Ford

"Only in America can you be Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-War, Pro-Unmanned Drone Bombs, Pro-Nuclear Weapons, Pro-Guns, Pro-Torture, Pro-Land Mines, AND still call yourself 'Pro-Life.'" - John Fugelsang

Thank you for listening.

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