CREDIT: AP Photo/LM Otero
Exactly one year ago, Americans woke up to the news that a Texas state senator’s dramatic 11-hour filibuster had lasted through the night, effectively blocking an omnibus anti-abortion bill from passing the GOP-controlled legislature. And the night before that, thousands of people from across the country huddled around their computer screens to watch a live stream of Wendy Davis, who wasn’t allowed to sit down, take a drink of water, go to the bathroom, or stray off topic while she was attempting to filibuster the bill.
Despite the best efforts of Davis and her fellow reproductive rights activists, that anti-abortion legislation did end up eventually being approved, and it began taking effect this past fall. Nonetheless, Davis’ famous stand against the measure still left its mark on Texas and on the rest of the country. Here’s what’s happened in the 365 days since Davis donned her pink sneakers in the Texas capitol building:
Thousands of activists mobilized to fight for women’s health.
Davis certainly didn’t act alone. Thousands of people swarmed the capitol building to protest Texas’ proposed abortion restrictions, and the so-called “orange army” did their part to slow down the advancement of the legislation. Hundreds of people signed up to testify against the bill, many of them giving passionate speeches about reproductive rights that went viral, and a new generation of Texas activists was born. Those activists didn’t just disappear after Davis’ filibuster ended. Now, a year later, a coalition called Fight Back Texas is continuing to “fight back against any efforts that restrict access to safe and legal abortions,” pledging that “our voices will continue to be heard.” State Rep. Donna Howard (D) told Texas Public Radio this week that she thinks the filibuster raised the level of activism in Texas by ten fold.
Wendy Davis and Leticia Van Putte were launched onto the national stage.
The fight for reproductive rights, and the positive public reception to Davis’ filibuster, helped propel forward several political careers. Davis decided to run for governor in Texas, which hasn’t been led by a Democratic governor in nearly 20 years. And her colleague Leticia Van Putte, who famously challenged Republican lawmakers during the filibuster — “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” she said at one point — is running for lieutenant governor. They’ve inspired some speculation that Texas’ political atmosphere may be shifting, and helped elevate women’s issues that are becoming relevant to campaigns in other states as well. Davis’ opponents have kept the attention on her reproductive rights stance by mocking her as an “abortion barbie.”
Texas women’s access to health care now hangs in the balance.
Texas’ new law started taking effect in the beginning of November, and since then, many of Davis’ warnings have come to fruition. Clinics have been forced out of business and doctors have been stripped of their credentials. The reproductive health landscape in Texas has dramatically changed, leaving huge swaths of the state without a single abortion clinic whatsoever. Rural and low-income residents, particularly the impoverished women who live near the Mexico border, have been left with hardly any options at all. Abortion providers refer to it as a “state of emergency,” as increasing numbers of women are opting for unsafe methods of ending a pregnancy like buying illegal abortion-inducing pills on the streets. On top of that, even more clinic closures are slated for the fall, when yet another provision of Texas’ new law goes into effect.
Similar laws have spread to other states.
Over the past year, the harsh restrictions that are shuttering clinics in Texas have made their way to other parts of the country. Conservative lawmakers attempted to follow in Texas’ footsteps and enact the exact same type of laws in their own states. Many of them were successful. Last month, Oklahoma and Louisiana became the latest states to approve identical clinic restrictions. Similar laws in Mississippi and Alabama are tied up in court, and women’s access to abortion in the South is dwindling. “Texas women are not alone. Similarly relentless and extreme attacks on women’s health and rights have been waged in more than a dozen states across the U.S. in recent years — the result of which has been nothing short of devastating,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement to mark the filibuster’s anniversary.
A national solution was proposed in Congress.
In order to stem the tide of state-level reproductive rights attacks, some national lawmakers are stepping up to the plate. In November, a group of Democratic senators introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, a measure that would prevent states from enacting any restrictions on abortion that aren’t medically necessary. It represented the first piece of national legislation in more than a decade to protect, rather than undermine, abortion rights. On the one year anniversary of Davis’ filibuster, women’s health advocates are renewing their advocacy around that bill. They’re lobbying on the Hill this week to drum up support for moving it forward.