On Tuesday, June 25, I was in Texas. I was in Texas because in six weeks I will move there for an MFA program, and I needed to find a place to live.
That MFA program is for another post. I mention it here because a) it’s the truth and b) there was no reason I would have gone to Texas otherwise. I grew up — and currently live — in New England; I’d never even been in the South before, if you discount the touristy parts of Florida. But here I was with a three-year promise to write books and study literature and eat a metric ton of Mexican food in the meantime.
I spent the majority of Tuesday, June 25 driving around the town where I would live, getting lost, and getting a parking ticket. By the time I arrived back at my host’s apartment in Austin, the filibuster Wendy Davis had begun 11 hours before had been shut down by male Republican senators; she remained standing, unable to eat, drink, lean on anything, or use the bathroom until the men decided whether her filibuster had stuck to the topics they deemed “germane.” (Apparently women’s personal testimony regarding abortion was not.)
My host and I sat in her living room watching the livestream of the Senate special session, unfolding twenty minutes away. We’d talked about going to the Capitol building ourselves, but by now the crowds had grown so massive that it seemed impossible we would be able to enter. She was furious, as was I. Of course, she had been following the SB5 story for some time; I am embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with the bill at the time. Watching men argue over the right of a woman to speak in public office, my general anger at the state of women’s rights in this country — “How can people NOT see that the patriarchy is real?!” — gave way to a realization that this bill would affect me personally.
Here I’d been thinking of myself as a Bostonian who happened to be in Texas, but in six weeks’ time I will also be a Texas woman. The extreme restrictions that SB5 — now HB2, in its newest form — would impinge upon the livelihoods and constitutional rights of women in Texas would impinge on me too. A strange feeling, because I have always been privileged in that regard. Never pregnant, never lived in a place that would prevent me from deciding among a full range of options if I were to get pregnant. I have been lucky. Even in Texas, I will be lucky; if HB2 passes, two of the five clinics that will remain open are within driving distance of my new town. I will have a hell of a better chance getting safe, legal care than a woman who lives in West Texas.
The problem is that reproductive rights are called “rights” for a reason. A woman’s ability to choose is not meant to be a privilege, available to some but not others. And yet, so often, it is exactly that. I call bullshit. Abortion is 14 times safer than the process of childbirth, and yet women are permitted to give birth at home in their bathtubs. Out of the 42 reproductive clinics in the state of Texas, this bill would shut down all but five. FIVE. Five in a state that contains thirteen million women.
This is not a debate over women’s safety. It is a debate over bodily autonomy, and whether women should be allowed to make their own choices.
I don’t know how much we can do to combat a system that believes people without uteri have the right to make decisions for those with uteri. But to the extent we can — donating money to pro-choice organizations and activists like Senator Davis, protesting in real life and online, making ourselves seen — we must. If not for ourselves, for others. For those who can’t afford to drive to the places that give them options. Independence isn’t something we earned when we became the United States of America; in a lot of places in this country, women still need it from those who would make decisions for them. Tomorrow’s a work day. The holiday’s over. Let’s get started.