How Pro-Choice Activists Are Fighting Back Against Texas’ Abortion Restrictions


Texans protest after the final passage of the controversial abortion restrictions (Credit: Reuters/Mike Stone)

Texans protest after the final passage of the controversial abortion restrictions (Credit: Reuters/Mike Stone)

When Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) called a special session last month to give Texas lawmakers more time to push through controversial abortion restrictions, a groundswell of grassroots activism ensured he wasn’t met without a fight. For weeks, thousands of protesters have descended on the state capitol to make their voices heard — and the dramatic showdown between the GOP-controlled legislature and the pro-choice activists has captured national media attention. Even though the anti-abortion bill ended up winning final approval early on Saturday morning, those activists aren’t giving up the fight.

Perry will likely sign the abortion restrictions into law any day. But here’s how reproductive health advocates are still fighting back:

Bringing legal challenges.

Texas Democrats have already vowed to bring legal challenges against the new abortion restrictions, which would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks and shut down the majority of the abortion clinics in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union says it’s currently considering the best approach. Similar legislation has been blocked by federal judges in other states, and court battles are often the right method to prevent extremely stringent abortion restrictions from taking effect. However, this type of legal challenge in Texas falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — which has an extremely conservative record and has ruled against reproductive rights in the past.

Keeping up the protests.

After the legislature passed the abortion restrictions early on Saturday morning, protesters continued to assemble. On Monday, hundreds of activists rallied at the Texas capitol and marched throughout Austin in protest of the anti-abortion bill’s passage. And other cities held their own protests in solidarity, too. Monday marked a “day of action” as thousands of people across the country stood up for reproductive rights to express their opposition to Texas lawmakers’ priorities.

Holding voting drives.

Over the weekend, Planned Parenthood Action Fund launched a new campaign to target women’s health supporters. The national organization intends to “engage and mobilize people across the country, asking them to commit to defeating politicians who oppose women’s health and support leaders who stand with women.” In a recent event in Washington, DC, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards pointed out that the momentum that began in Texas will carry over to the ballot box. And Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator who gained national fame after filibustering the proposed abortion restrictions for more than 11 hours, is beginning to campaign for a potential run for the Texas’ governor’s mansion. Davis has already raised about $1 million in donations.

Turning the attention to other states.

The exact same abortion restrictions in Texas’ bill are also being advanced in other states. Across the country, states like North Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia are also working hard to force abortion clinics to close their doors. And GOP-controlled legislatures have advanced dozens of other types of abortion restrictions this year, too — making 2013 one of the worst years for reproductive freedom in recent history. Women’s health advocates are hoping to translate the energy around Texas’ anti-abortion push to other attacks on choice in other places. “You might not see us crowding your corridors and objecting from the balconies, but make no mistake, we are still here,” Cecile Richards wrote in a recent email to donors. “We are in Texas, in North Carolina, in Ohio, and every place a small group of politicians tries to turn back the hands of time on women and rights.”

Challenging ideas about what it means to be “pro-life.”

Fed up with the Texas legislature’s relentless focus on anti-abortion legislation during the special sessions, some opponents are taking creative measures to draw attention to other issues. Thousands of Texans signed onto a petition asking Perry to add comprehensive sex education to the issues being considered during the extra lawmaking sessions. If Perry really wanted to lower the number of abortions in the state, the petition pointed out, he should support reforming Texas’ abstinence education programs to ensure that kids are receiving accurate information about preventing pregnancy. And Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. has introduced a bill that would prevent Texas’ new abortion restrictions from being implemented until the state abolishes the death penalty.