Ms. Magazine launched a petition and social action campaign on Thursday urging the country’s top telecom companies to improve their location technology for 9-1-1 calls.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), improvements in the ability of emergency response agencies to accurately locate at-risk cell phone callers could “save approximately 10,120 lives annually.”
In July a woman in San Bernardino, California, called 9-1-1 on her cell phone for help. Identifying as Michelle Miers, she said she had been shot but did not give her address. It took the San Bernardino Police Department at least 20 minutes to determine her location, using “the longitude and latitude of the call,” according to news reports. The 26-year-old mother of two died as the result of the injuries she received during the attack, and advocates believe that if local law enforcement had the ability to determine her exact location, her death—and the deaths of other individuals in life-threatening situations—could have been prevented.
Other incidents in which a cell phone caller could not be located by 9-1-1 dispatchers in time have happened around the country.
“The largest category of 911 calls comes from women in domestic violence situations,” Katherine Spillar, executive editor of Ms. Magazine, wrote in an open letter to the heads of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. “It’s outrageous, frankly, that some of them have to die because operators are struggling to figure out where the call has come from.”
While emergency responders and fire and police chiefs have announced their support of the proposed FCC regulations, the four largest wireless service providers in the United States—Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile—have objected their implementation.
These companies say that current technology cannot meet the proposed standards; however, an independent test found technologies are available today to meet the FCC’s proposed standards. Ms. Magazine says that the phone companies need to embrace these new standards instead of complaining about the time and money it might cost them.
“How many more women have to die before America’s cell-phone service providers stop dragging their feet?” the petition letter says. “I urge you to end the delay tactics and support the FCC’s proposed regulations today—and save thousands of lives.”
The post Petition Urges Telecom Companies to Improve Location Technology That FCC Says Could Save Lives appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A Michigan jury has convicted 55-year-old Theodore Wafer of second-degree murder for shooting 19-year-old Renisha McBride to death on his Dearborn Heights front porch.
McBride’s parents praised the jury’s verdict, saying that justice was served and that McBride’s shooting “was no accident.” They described their daughter as a “beautiful young lady” who “had things going for her.”
Wafer’s attorneys argued that Wafer, who is white, shot the young Black woman in self-defense last fall, believing she was an intruder trying to enter his home at 4:30 a.m. on November 2. Prosecutors argued that a confused and disoriented McBride had gone looking for help after crashing her car near Wafer’s home. An autopsy confirmed that McBride was intoxicated when Wafer shot her.
Wafer had reportedly gotten the gun to scare off “neighborhood kids” who had paint-balled his car, and assistant Wayne County prosecutor Patrick Muscat said in closing arguments that Wafer “wanted a confrontation.”
The jury deliberated for eight hours over two days. Wafer’s attorney described his conviction—for second-degree murder, manslaughter, and felony firearm—as “not fair,” because Wafer will now “die in prison.” Wafer, who had been free on bail before and during the trial, was taken into custody and awaits sentencing on August 25.
The breaking news of Wafer’s conviction became news itself after the Associated Press initially tweeted what was called a biased and victim-blaming headline: “Suburban Detroit homeowner convicted of second-degree murder for killing woman who showed up drunk on porch.” Twitter users quickly responded with the #APHeadlines hashtag, recasting other news events, historical moments, and violence against Black Americans in language echoing the AP, such as: “Firemen cool teens off. Providing relief from the Suns hot rays” along with a black-and-white photo of white firefighters blasting civil rights protesters with water from a firehouse.
Image: The Young Turks / YouTube
The post Renisha McBride’s Killer Convicted of Second-Degree Murder, Manslaughter, Firearm Charges appeared first on RH Reality Check.
This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.
I typically turn a deliberately blind eye to the bitter feuds and organizing fads that erupt with boring regularity on Twitter. Yet, recently, some of the most vocal social-media cheers and jeers revolved around abortion protests in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas. And the chatter wasn’t about your garden-variety anti-abortion protests. Instead, the Twitter talk has focused—and will continue to focus—on a new crop of pro-choice direct actions, some staged at abortion clinics. And the bare-knuckled Twitter fights were between groups that support abortion rights but don’t agree on the tactics.
As fleeting and furious as Twitter conflicts can be, anyone who cares about reproductive health, rights, and justice can’t ignore these movement strategy showdowns online or offline. These combative conversations are part of larger, essential discussions about why we keep losing ground on abortion rights when the majority of Americans support us—and should be part of honest discussions about the need for innovative organizing in the face of relentless, creative opposition. And these intra-movement slugfests are bound to recur because internal debates—even ugly ones—can fuel movement change; because the continued assault on abortion rights will continue to outrage and mobilize; and because some of the mobilized believe that extreme times require extreme measures or, at the very least, a re-examination of the tried-and-true protest playbook.
Until now, that playbook has largely stayed away from clinic counter-protests. While supporters of abortion rights have never been mute, there’s often been a distinct reluctance to go toe-to-toe with their opponents on sidewalks. Some of that reticence is rooted in the sober reality of violence against abortion providers and clinics: For Bostonians, for example, the effective end of the 35-foot buffer zone resonates forcefully in a place where, in 1994, two clinic workers were murdered at a Brookline clinic. And there are those refuse to answer anti-choice propaganda and moralizing with science, saying it’s a false apples-and-oranges equivalency. But we also know that facts often fare badly in these ideological wars; evidence is going up against deeply felt emotional claims about “life,” women’s status, and “what Jesus would do.” And while “movement people” rely on science and evidence gleaned from women’s lives, that’s evidence that’s hard to communicate to the general public.
The difficulty of reaching people drives why the pro-choice clinic protests of a North Carolina couple have gone viral. Grayson and Tina Haver Currin became social media cool kids with their “Saturday Chores” Tumblr that visually documents their pro-choice counter-protests at a Raleigh clinic. Their story has all the makings of movement legend in the making. Driving by a clinic, the husband-wife team saw anti-abortion protesters, decided to stage a spontaneous counter-protest, and grabbed a store sign for their homemade message.
On Saturdays, they’ve become a consistent presence with tongue-in-cheek signs that turn the tables on the protesters standing within arm’s reach. “He’s Single,” said one sign complete with an arrow aimed at a young white man toting a “Pregnant Mothers Need Support Not Abortion” sign. Some are even more pointed, “Women’s Rights Expert,” also referring to a male protester. Others are non-sequitur—signs that profess love for kittens and turtles, for instance—that underscore the sometimes seemingly random sentiments expressed by abortion opponents.
For some abortion rights advocates, the Currins’ protest is an irreverent pro-choice revenge fantasy gone live. And it’s much-needed levity because it’s not hyperbole to say that those very abortion rights are under siege. Herein lies part of the Currins’ appeal. They are just regular, albeit quirky, folk who literally took up the cause in the blink of an eye. And they’re part of that vast, murky middle of Americans who don’t want abortion banned but don’t think that much about it, really.
Many clinics discourage protests such as the Currins’ and instruct their escorts not to engage protesters in any way—a difficult task when protesters pray for their souls and steadily harangue patients or random passers-by. But some abortion rights advocates wonder about the wisdom of mocking anti-picketers because turning clinic protest into a debate could turn increasingly nasty. And from a more philosophical point of view, I see the dangerous allure of framing anti-abortion clinic protesters as illogical or unhinged targets of mockery. Seeing them only as cranks means that it’s difficult to understand how to best engage and counter their arguments.
There are the pragmatic concerns of keeping patients safe and not adding to the cacophony of voices—even friendly ones—that greet women entering their facilities. Says Kelsea McClain, a North Carolina clinic escort and former clinic employee:
When clinic patients see a stranger standing in front of their clinic with a poster, they automatically assume, “Oh. That person is here to harass me.” They don’t take the time to read the poster, gather context clues. … So it can appear like a sea of people is there to protest you and your abortion, when in reality it’s a few antis and some awesome supporters. When we escort, we have on hot pink vests that say “Clinic Escort.” Yet daily we have patients run from us, thinking we are protesters trying to accost them.
But there’s varying opinion about how protests affect women seeking abortion care. I’ve heard an escort praise counter-protesters for distracting antis from their real target: patients. The little research available on the impact of anti-abortion clinic protesters suggests that there is no universal response to abortion protesters, though there seems to be a nearly universal assumption that such protests have a negative impact on women’s abortion experiences. A 2012 study from the University of California San Francisco’s Bixby Center of Reproductive Health followed 950 women who sought abortion at 30 facilities nationwide and documented their emotional response to clinic protesters. Forty-eight percent of women said the protesters did not upset them at all, and more than half of survey participants reported varying levels of upset. The women most likely to be disturbed were those who struggled with their abortion decision.
For Britni de la Cretaz, a director of Hollaback! Boston, there are multiple questions to consider when thinking about a pro-choice clinic action: whether the clinic wants such support; whether patients will be deterred or distressed; and whether such events amp up anti-choice hostility. De la Cretaz participated in increasingly contentious Facebook exchanges with other Boston activists who staged a July 25 counter-protest outside a downtown Boston Planned Parenthood clinic. About 40 activists from Boston Feminists for Liberation and allied groups chanted “Abortion Is Health Care,” and some carried signs exhorting abortion opponents to demonstrate real care for children by speaking out against Israeli violence in Gaza. They did so against calls from some clinic staff to cancel the event.
De la Cretaz said to RH Reality Check on the phone that women who seek abortions “are not making a statement; they’re not an activist. They’re just seeking health care. They just see a hundred people standing at the door. … There’s a difference between clinic defense and protest.”
She added, “Tensions are so high [in Boston] because of the Supreme Court [McCullen] decision and people are rightfully angry, but that can spurn more anger. If one person cancels her appointment because there are too many people standing at the door, are we harming the people we’re trying to help? I understand the need and want to make a bunch of noise, but I wonder if our tactics need to change.”
Efforts to contact Boston Feminists for Liberation (BFL), the collective that organized the protests, were unsuccessful. But online comments from BLF organizers and supporters shot back at the criticisms and questions from De la Cretaz and others. They argued women are already canceling appointments, that Planned Parenthood affiliates have a vested interest in containing on-site protests and dissent over them within their staff, and that they’ve heard from patients who welcome pro-choice protesters. And the war of words went on to suggest that this was not just a struggle over tactics, but a fight over a feminist mainstream that controls resources and more radical elements who want to push the organizing envelope.
Those divisions are both real and exaggerated. Fights between liberal feminists who work within the political system and left-leaning feminists are part of feminism’s creation story, and it’s easy to imagine the doyennes of mainstream liberal feminism pitted against today’s anarchist bluestockings. But it’s more complicated than that.
Advocacy of abortion rights pushes even political behemoths such as Planned Parenthood to the margins of popular discourse, allowing politicians to take aim at it over and over again. But reality also demands that we acknowledge that, as a health-care and political heavyweight, Planned Parenthood has the machinery to serve millions of women, support legislative actions, and exert a huge political influence through established power and money.
But there are a lot more players in the reproductive health and justice worlds than Planned Parenthood. These questions about the Boston protest are not merely about strategy. They are about movement direction, and they’re not just about Boston.
All of the abortion-related coverage from Texas—from Wendy Davis’ epic, bladder-busting filibuster to activists filling the capitol—has had the double-edged-sword effect of attracting national attention and fresh supporters, some of whom have little grasp of what’s gone before, said Lindsey Rodriguez, San Antonio-based director of the Lilith Fund, which helps women afford their abortion procedures.
It’s great to be able to have these conversations about abortion with people and, frankly, get the support, the money, and the attention. But we then get an influx of people who may not have the background knowledge and they’re really eager to get in and help. But one of the pluses of working with an abortion fund is that we’ve got a history of seeing the pitfalls when new ideas are tested and what doesn’t work for patients. There’s the potential for clients to be alienated, and our primary concern is that we don’t ask them a lot or make them feel there are strings attached. We don’t expect them to be politicized, and sometimes, people [or media new to the organization and its reproductive-justice approach] ask “Why aren’t [women who had abortions] protesting? Why aren’t they fighting?”
The Texas for Reproductive Justice coalition recently published a “United Statement in Opposition to Stop Patriarchy“ in response to New York-based Stop Patriarchy’s 2014 “Abortion Rights Freedom Ride.” The ride, which began on July 30, seeks to publicize the impact of Texas HB 2, which sharply cut the number of Texas abortion providers in one fell swoop last summer. Stop Patriarchy, which was on the ground in Austin, Texas, tabling last summer around the time of Wendy Davis’ filibuster, has asked volunteers to participate in online “people’s hearings” from several Texas cities; participate in a unspecified Week of Defiance in late August; and generally help stage “confrontational, dramatic non-violent political protest” that would include brandishing bloody coat-hangers and shackles representing female enslavement.
According to the open letter, Stop Patriarchy’s presence in the past has disturbed many reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations in the Lone Star State and elsewhere. It alleged that the New York-based group did not play well with others, announcing a tour with little communication with the local and large base of organizations already in the Texas trenches. Furthermore, it charged that Stop Patriarchy was fundraising without transparent discussion of how monies would be directed and whether they would benefit Texas women. (The New York group raised more than $32,000 for the tour.)
“When you’re in a situation where the sky is falling, you have to come together and work together and build that trust,” Rodriguez told RH Reality Check on the phone. “Even in places where you think it’s not contentious, a liberal blue state thing, people are fighting for money.”
She added, “The first time that Stop Patriarchy contacted us was when they’d already set up their campaign and asked us to re-tweet about it. But a few things rubbed us the wrong way: They seemed to be saying that organizations in Texas weren’t changing the needle on the ground. Then, they came into our wheelhouse, with fundraising. They said that if you donate a thousand dollars, we’ll let you put your name on someone’s abortion. That’s offensive. Our supporters started saying, ‘Why are you acting like no one’s funding abortions in Texas?’ They raised $32,000 on their Indiegogo campaign. What the Lilith Fund could do with that money.” (The Lilith Fund’s current budget is $120,000.)
Stop Patriarchy’s Sunsara Taylor said that the goal of the Freedom Rides was not to raise money for abortions but to raise awareness (and ultimately, revolution), and she distanced herself from the more vitriolic rhetoric of the Twitter firestorm.
“To be clear,” she told RHRC, “we never said that we were going to be funding services. From the beginning, we said that we were out to have a political protest. It couldn’t be further from the truth [that we said no one was doing work in Texas]. We’ve said there have been courageous people doing this work.
“At the same time, much more is needed. Services are not enough. You can’t rely on the courts. You can’t rely on the politicians. That’s not an indictment of anybody’s activism.” She added, however, that crowd-sourced online donations will allow Stop Patriarchy to fund four abortions in Mississippi and Texas.
Kit O’Connell, a Texas activist and journalist, has been one of many voices asking Stop Patriarchy to account for its funding. He was active with Occupy Austin during last summer’s campaign against Texas HB 2, the measure that is poised to cut the number of Texas abortion clinics to six by September 1. He pointed out that during last year’s protests at the Texas capitol, the so-called unruly mob of protesters “were constantly being told to be quiet” and “being asked to respect legislators who don’t respect us”—often by Democratic Party operatives. But he doesn’t see the Stop Patriarchy-Texans for Reproductive Justice verbal jousting as simply a matter of radicals versus the mainstream.
O’Connell said to RHRC, “I have friends that spend hours and hours on Wendy Davis’ campaign, and I have friends who are going to the Rio Grande Valley, leading workshops on how to use misoprostol, and everything in between. But I do agree with Stop Patriarchy that we need to do more until this law is gone.”
But he was disturbed by Stop Patriarchy’s language and anti-sex work stance; it has compared, for example, pornography with lynching, forced motherhood with slavery, and now its second abortion tour with the 1961 civil rights demonstrations that drove buses and a multicultural group of young activists straight into the heart of Dixie to challenge racial segregation.
It’s clear that Stop Patriarchy failed to observe some rules of Effective Organizing and Movement Building 101—rules like building strong relationships with established groups to see the lay of the land, especially when you’re fundraising in the name of women who come from a different place from you. I’ll also add some corollaries that have to do with race and place: New Yorkers rushing in to save Southerners are likely to be looked upon with suspicion, and the movements that can most successfully harness civil rights imagery are the ones that have proven “skin” in the historical or contemporary civil rights struggles.
But, really, they don’t have to ask permission. History is open source.The civil rights movement remains instructive for organizers, and in this moment, I think we can turn back to it for guidance. Though Americans all think we know about the civil rights movement, the movement—or more accurately, movements plural—has been reduced to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and bus boycotts. There was never one strategy, and when organizers tried to fit all strategies into a single box, it didn’t work. But contemporaries knew that pacifists and militants co-existed in the same movement; students who supported sit-ins existed in the same movement with gradualists who hoped for quiet political solutions to end segregation; and that rural farmers existed in the same movement with middle class, urban Blacks.
At the heart of these conflicts are, yes, questions of resources. But it’s also about who gets to determine the rules of engagement or the messaging. I admit, it’s deeply uncomfortable to see abortion rights activists embracing the racialized vocabulary of anti-abortion forces who regularly make facile comparisons between slavery and abortion. Stop Patriarchy’s Taylor said she abhors anti-choice rhetoric that compares “fully human Black people to potentially human fetuses” as “wrong and racist.” But she stands behind comparing the abortion rights emergency and forced motherhood with slavery, and says that her organization means all forms of slavery, not just U.S. chattel slavery of African-Americans. That’s an argument that’s hard to make here in the United States, where slavery typically means the centuries-long bondage of Black people.
But if there’s one thing that I can give to anti-abortion forces, it is that they at least do talk about race, a topic that so tangles up traditional reproductive rights organization that they often opt out of talking about race at all. And racial comparisons, or those likely to be read in such terms in this race-saturated society, are particularly dangerous for groups like Stop Patriarchy; Taylor said that the group advising the abortion freedom rides is all white.
I’m not fundamentally opposed to one movement using another’s language—with respect and care. After all, Gandhi’s satyagraha (“insistence on truth”) germinated different flowers in the U.S. civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle. Just as no one owns oppression—a point made quite eloquently by Stop Patriarchy defenders—no one owns the organizing toolbox.
But using another movement’s language and tactics must be an act of thoughtful and collaborative translation and transformation. The stakes of reproductive injustice for Texas women are terribly high, but they are not the same as the stakes faced by the Freedom Riders. Nor are Stop Patriarchy’s Freedom Riders facing the stakes of those 1961 travelers for justice, who knew that vicious beatings were likely ahead.
The Freedom Rides are a powerful symbol, but we—and Stop Patriarchy—should think deeply about what they mean in conversation with the history of abortion rights. There is a history of women moving across state and national lines to seek abortion care before Roe v. Wade; maybe those are the actual Abortion Freedom Rides and the journeys that must be illuminated? And maybe, you’re saying, that’s a stretch or an attempt to bend history into political slogans. But maybe it’s a start, for organizations that believe in intersectionality, to begin thinking about whether we can develop inter-movement, intersectional stories.
Image: brunosan // flickr
08.08.14 - (COMUNICADO DE PRENSA) La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH)-uno de los organismos principales de protección de los derechos humanos para las Américas, consideró que el Estado Peruano había cumplido con la solución amistosa del caso de M.M., una joven quien al ir en búsqueda de atención médica a un hospital público fue violada por el médico que la atendió. El caso se cierra después de casi 20 años.
La solución amistosa que el gobierno acordó con los peticionarios en marzo de 2000, obligaba al Estado a que proporcionara reparaciones financieras a M.M., revocara la licencia médica del violador, mejorara el acceso a la justicia en casos de violencia sexual y a que admitiera la responsabilidad internacional por la violación a los derechos humanos que sufrió M.M.
Nancy Northup, presidenta y directora ejecutiva del Centro de Derechos Reproductivos afirmó que:
“Ninguna mujer debería temer ser violada por un médico encomendado a proporcionarle asistencia médica crítica y ninguna mujer quien sufra un tratamiento tan deplorable debería esperar tanto tiempo para que se haga justicia”.
“Elogiamos al gobierno Peruano por aceptar su responsabilidad en el sufrimiento de esta mujer y por tomar acción para prevenir que esta situación se repita”.
“Ahora es el momento para que funcionarios a cargo de formular políticas públicas construyan sobre este trabajo para asegurar que todos los casos de violencia sexual se agilicen y sean manejados de forma justa y que todas las mujeres estén protegidas de violaciones similares a sus derechos humanos”.
M.M. tenía 22 años cuando fue al Hospital Público Carlos Monge Medrano de Juliaca en enero de 1996, con dolores por todo su cuerpo y un dolor de cabeza severo, efecto de un accidente vial que había sufrido meses antes. En vez de brindarle atención médica por sus síntomas, el médico la llevó a un cuarto del hospital donde la drogó y la violó.
Después de haber denunciado ante las autoridades competentes la violación, M.M. fue sometida a malos tratos y discriminación por parte del personal del hospital, la policía y el sistema judicial. Su caso fue cerrado por falta de evidencia en julio de 1997.
El Centro de Derechos Reproductivos, el Centro de Justicia y Derecho Internacional (CEJIL), el Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (CLADEM) y DEMUS (Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer) presentaron una petición a la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos el 23 de abril de 1998 en nombre de M.M. El acuerdo de solución amistosa se firmó el 6 de marzo de 2000.
Como parte del acuerdo, en marzo de este año, el gobierno peruano adoptó una resolución que incluye la capacitación de magistradas/os en temas de género y justicia como parte de su formación fundamental obligatoria. La resolución aún debe ser implementada conforme al acuerdo en la Comisión.
“Los sistemas jurídicos y criminales de Perú le fallaron a M.M.”, dijo María Ysabel Cedano, Directora de DEMUS. “Exhortamos al Gobierno para que la Academia de la Magistratura (AMAG) cumpla con incluir en su oferta curricular, planes y presupuestos 2014, 2015 y futuros, talleres, cursos y diplomados en género y justicia como parte de la formación fundamental obligatoria de fiscales, juezas y jueces. Asimismo exhortamos al Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura (CNM) para que adopte las propuestas formuladas por Demus para que se bonifique especialmente la formación en género recibida en la AMAG, en los procesos de selección, ratificación y ascenso de magistrados y magistradas tomando”.
“La violencia contra la mujer es una violación muy grave en Perú,” dijo Gabriela Filoni, como responsable de Litigio de CLADEM. “El Gobierno debe establecer estándares más altos de salud, justicia y representación legal para todas la mujeres, pero en especial cuando las mujeres hacen denuncias sobre hechos de violencia sexual”.
In federal court in Austin on Thursday, the State of Texas called its final defense witnesses arguing for the necessity of new abortion regulations that require abortion-providing doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and abortion facilities to operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). The witnesses challenged Texas abortion providers’ assertions that HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law passed last summer in a special legislative session, imposes an undue burden on their practices, and rejected allegations that their expert testimony had been drafted for them by a consultant for the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
A Pennsylvania ASC consultant, who said she had never worked in Texas or with any abortion providers, testified that she believed that the plaintiffs’ experts had overestimated the cost of building new abortion-providing ASCs in the state, and that those same experts had also overestimated how large abortion-providing ASCs would need to be in order to comply with the law.
Deborah Kitz said that, in her opinion, Texas abortion providers could build smaller, one-operating room ASCs at a lower cost than the approximately $3 million estimated by the plaintiffs’ expert.
Later, a retired North Carolina sociologist who said that his research “goes beyond a disinterested analysis of social problems” to find a “Christian response” to those problems, testified that he disagreed with research conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project that indicated Texas abortion facilities would have trouble complying with HB 2, and that some abortion-providing doctors would be unable to obtain hospital admitting privileges.
Uhlenberg cited news stories that showed some doctors in states outside Texas who had been able to obtain hospital admitting privileges.
Counsel for the plaintiffs—a group of independent Texas abortion providers from across the state, some of whom have closed their doors, they say, because of HB 2′s stringent requirements—focused once again on the state experts’ communications with Vincent Rue, a North Carolina psychoanalyst and anti-choice activist who has consulted on a number of lawsuits for other states when they have defended similar laws.
At issue is whether Rue was improperly involved in the drafting of the state experts’ written testimony, and whether Rue composed the testimony for the experts and substituted his beliefs for theirs.
In emails between Rue and Kitz, the Pennsylvania ASC consultant, Kitz was shown to have sent Rue a “bullet point type” draft. She later chastised Rue, via email, for inserting a reference to a study she had not yet reviewed in his further edits to her testimony.
Nevertheless, she testified that “all the substance” was her own, and that Rue merely edited her statements.
Throughout the trial, assistant attorneys general representing the defense have worked to show that complications from abortion procedures are underreported, and that HB 2′s requirement that abortion-providing doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals would ensure “continuity of care” for their patients between the abortion facility and emergency rooms, and ensure that doctors who provide abortion care were competent to do so.
But plaintiffs’ counsel challenged those assertions, calling to the stand Mari Robinson, the executive director of the Texas Medical Board, who is a defendant in the case in her official capacity. Robinson testified that, as far as she could recall, the medical board had only disciplined one abortion provider for non-HB 2-compliance reasons in her 13 years employed by the agency, and that that disciplinary action had been taken for administrative reasons, rather than reasons related to the quality of care provided.
Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, August 13.
The post State Witnesses’ Credibility Called Into Question in Texas TRAP Law Trial appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On July 30, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a new buffer zone bill into law. Called an Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, the law is the state’s response to June’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts violated the First Amendment.
As reflected by the new Massachusetts law, the McCullen v. Coakley ruling upheld the constitutionality of buffer zones around clinics that perform abortion. At issue was the fact that the 35-foot zone was not “narrowly tailored” enough to balance the free speech rights of abortion clinic protesters and the right for women to enter health-care facilities safely.
In other words, the Massachusetts zone was too big. In order to pass constitutional muster, each buffer zone must be right-sized.
The problem is that there is no simple formula to determine what that means for each state or city. Factors such as the distribution of private and public space, the architectural layout of the facilities, and the specific history of violence and harassment at a particular facility can all play into defining the exact proper balance of interests.
Since the ruling, protests in some cities have become chaotic as some city officials voluntarily stopped enforcing their buffer zones. In San Francisco, for example, protesters reportedly took it upon themselves to begin ignoring the zone, and officials, “according to insiders,” are concerned “that defending San Francisco’s 25-foot zone could invite a suit by antiabortion activists —which could leave the city on the hook for big legal expenses if they win,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Meanwhile, the legal fate of the remaining buffer zones—laws are on the books in 16 cities and three states—across the country remain “in limbo.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the plaintiffs in McCullen, is gearing up to challenge the remaining zones. With just over $40 million in assets, the rapidly expanding Arizona-based nonprofit has the resources to work methodically, forcing every state, city, and township with a buffer zone to defend, or re-defend, it in court.
“We are looking into other areas that have such laws and ordinances, and, yes, we will seek to bring them in line with the Constitution and [the] ruling,” Kerri Kupec, spokesperson for Alliance Defending Freedom, said on the day of the McCullen ruling.
Currently, Pennsylvania has active buffer zones in effect in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
Pittsburgh enacted the Medical Safety Zone Ordinance in 2005, which established both a fixed 15-foot buffer zone and a floating “bubble” zone. The bubble zone rule meant that people outside the clinic were protected by a roving 8-foot buffer zone while within 100 feet of the clinic.
When the Alliance Defending Freedom challenged the ordinance in court in 2009, the court ruled that Pittsburgh could enact either a fixed or a floating buffer zone, but not both at the same time.
Now the Alliance Defending Freedom intends to return to court over the Pittsburgh zone.
The Alliance — which seeks to make the legal system amenable to “religious liberty, the sanctity of life and marriage and family,” according to its website — is keen on revisiting other buffer zone laws, including in Pittsburgh, Mr. Cortman said: “Where we have clients, we will relitigate.”
Sue Frietsche, an attorney with the Women’s Law Project, explained to the Pittsburgh CityPaper, that the Supreme Court ruling does not mean that the Pittsburgh buffer zone is illegal.
“The tricky part is figuring out what part of the law was most troubling to the justices,” Frietsche says. “Was it because it had statewide application, instead of being a municipal ordinance? [Roberts' opinion notes that much of the dispute about clinic access centered on a single, heavily protested facility in Boston.] Because it had a 35-foot buffer instead of a 15-foot radius? There are a number of ways in which the Massachusetts law was broader.”
A representative of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office stated that the Pittsburgh law was sufficiently “narrowly tailored” to pass the level of scrutiny established in the McCullen ruling.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“The decision is going to require some careful review, but it appears that Pittsburgh’s law is narrowly tailored enough to stay in effect,” said Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, who voted for the law as a city councilman in 2005. “We believe in the ordinance. We believe that it does balance the relevant concerns. More importantly, so does the federal court.”
Harrisburg, the state capital, created a 20-foot buffer zone in 2012, in response to protesters that reportedly “harassed patients and staff outside the Second Street facility” after the clinic began offering medical abortions, resulting in at least six calls to the police. Geoffrey Knight, planning director of Harrisburg, told RH Reality Check that he has not been asked to review the city’s buffer zone.
Philadelphia, despite the presence of reproductive health facilities that regularly draw protesters, has never had a buffer zone.
Sen. Larry Farnese, a Philadelphia Democrat and former clinic escort, set out to fix that. Earlier this year, Farnese introduced SB 1208. Known as the Interference With Access to Health Care Facilities Act, SB 1208 is part of the Women’s Health Agenda, a package of women’s equality bills drafted by progressive state legislators in response to the onslaught of abortion restrictions passed in states nationwide in recent years. It will establish 15-foot buffer zones around all health facilities in Pennsylvania.
In January, Sen. Farnese told RH Reality Check that his experience with aggressive protesters while volunteering as a clinic escort at the Philadelphia Women’s Center made him determined to see this bill into law. Nonetheless, it has sat in the Public Health and Welfare Committee since January. A spokeperson for his office told RH Reality Check that the bill may have stalled, but the effort was not dead.
“The senator does intend to keep moving forward with this issue,” Farnese’s chief of staff Tony Mannino told RH Reality Check. “I think that we’ll have to … take a look at it, and see if it can be retooled in a way that’s consistent with the Supreme Court decision.”
More than 90 percent of “abortion providers had patients entering their facility express concerns about their personal safety,” according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Abortion Providers.
Buffer zones don’t just protect patients, though; they protect providers too.
“[Providers] are acutely aware that other providers have been murdered at work by protesters who were able to get too close to clinic workers,” Cohen told RH Reality Check earlier this year. “Buffer zones don’t guarantee that providers won’t be harmed, but they undoubtedly help.”
Disclaimer: Tara Murtha consults with the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law firm that represents some abortion providers in Pennsylvania.
On a sweltering evening in Westlake, Texas, an affluent suburb just outside the Austin city limits, Wendy Davis quietly appears at the edge of a carefully manicured back patio. Just then, the crowd—”Women for Wendy”—stop fanning themselves and sipping cucumber water to collectively inhale: There she is. People discreetly nudge their neighbors, gathered on the lawn behind the home of well-to-do Democratic donors, struggling to stay politely focused on Texas Rep. Donna Howard, the fiery Austin legislator who’s just wrapping up the story of how she held on to her barely-blue house district in 2010, squeaking by her opponent with just 12 votes.
Howard grins. She knows who these folks are here for, and without further ado, introduces the Democratic gubernatorial candidate that so many Texans hope will change the face of statewide politics this November.
With hugs and handshakes, Davis takes her place in front of the crowd, grinning. She opens her arms wide and hollers: “I love y’all!”
Cue the smartphones and a chorus of muffled clapping: everyone’s trying to grab a photo with one hand and continue the applause with the other. In that moment, everyone snaps and shares the same picture of Davis, her arms outstretched, frozen in a pose that, on reflection, doesn’t so much say “I love y’all!” as it does Come at me, bro.
Wendy Davis: The Living Legend
In four months, Texans are guaranteed to elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years, and Davis’ battle stance is appropo: She’s been under attack from naysayers, pundits, and even members of her own party since before she announced her candidacy for Texas governor back in October. Today, she continues to fall well behind her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in statewide polls, though the most recent financial reports show that Davis out-raised Abbott in the last fundraising period, and she often boasts about a grassroots base that she says puts Abbott’s small but monied good-ole-boy network to shame.
But politicos on both sides of the aisle have worried that Davis, who took her Fort Worth, Texas, Senate seat in 2008 and held on to it in a hard-fought battle in 2012, has skyrocketed to fame too quickly, taking on the burden of running for statewide office before she, or the State of Texas, is ready. Following her filibuster of an omnibus anti-abortion bill that is expected to shutter all but a handful of abortion providers in Texas, even one of her fellow Democrats situated Davis as being unable to break away from accusations that she’s a one-issue candidate who peaked on a summer night in 2013.
And the national media has expressed a singular fascination with Davis’ footwear, cooing over the pink Mizuno sneakers she wore on the floor of the Texas Senate on June 25, 2013. That day, Davis stood for 13 hours, reading Texans’ abortion stories and unheard testimony from citizens who had, days earlier, been shut out of a committee hearing by a Republican lawmaker who called their concerns about reducing access to reproductive health care “repetitive.”
That bill eventually passed in a second special legislative session, with pro-choice Democrats and Republicans roundly outnumbered by their anti-choice colleagues. A Republican pundit quickly gave Davis the glib and sexist nickname “Abortion Barbie,” and conservatives have worked hard to try and make it stick.
But Davis’ policy bench goes deep, as does her bipartisan record: the Harvard-educated lawyer served on the Fort Worth City Council for nine years, overseeing remarkable economic development initiatives and voting in Republican primaries, even donating to Republican campaigns. When she ran for state senate as a conservative Democrat in 2008, she took the office from a Republican incumbent and later held on to the seat in a costly and combative race against Tea Partier Mark Shelton in 2012. In 2011, Davis filibustered in the state senate for the first time, opposing a $4-billion cut to education funding and forcing Gov. Rick Perry into a special legislative session. In 2013, she shepherded through a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with nigh-unprecedented bipartisan support, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
If, despite this record, Davis is considered a one-trick pony in pink sneakers, what must we make of her opponent, Greg Abbott? Abbott frequently describes, only half-jokingly, most of his 12 years on the job as attorney general thusly: “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”
Well, just as Wendy Davis was announcing her candidacy for governor in the auditorium of her former high school in Haltom City, Texas, the October 2013 issue of Texas Monthly hit newsstands, featuring a grinning Greg Abbott on the cover with a shotgun slung over his shoulder, a glaring sans-serif font looming over his head: “The Gov*.”
The cheeky asterisk qualified the prediction—”barring an unlikely occurrence”—but the message, from Texas’ glossy magazine of record, was clear: when Rick Perry moves out of the governor’s mansion after a 14-year tenure, he’ll be high-fiving his buddy Greg on the way in.
Since her announcement, reporters have hammered Davis and her campaign with questions of surprisingly mundane irrelevance: Will she or won’t she wear the cute sneakers again? When did Davis really get divorced—at age 19, or 21? How long did she live in a Fort Worth trailer park? Did her second husband pay for all of her Harvard education, or just part of it? How much time did she spend with her daughters while earning her law degree in Boston? Can Wendy Davis have it all!?
None of which helps Texans answer a far more important question: What could a Gov. Wendy Davis actually do?
Attacks From All Sides
It’s not surprising that, in a state where no Democrat has held statewide office in 20 years, political wonks and capitol reporters find themselves stymied by the Davis phenomenon, struggling to parse the appeal of a bright new candidate who has managed to energize and mobilize long-frustrated Texans who are hungry to see the state released from the Koch-greased grip of the Tea Party.
Previous Democratic gubernatorial candidates have been wholly unable to stop, or even slow, the Republican train. Well-funded or not, well-liked or not, Tony Sanchez, Chris Bell, and Bill White all fell short of Rick Perry by hundreds of thousands of votes over the last 14 years. And since 2010, Tea Party Republicans have enjoyed great success ousting more moderate incumbents and pushing those conservatives who’ve so far managed to stay out of their way ever farther to the right.
But then came Wendy Davis, who rose to prominence at a politically and demographically opportune time, with Texas’ growing Hispanic population turning the state bluer by the year. Just a few months before Davis’ filibuster, national Democrats took a page from the Obama playbook and launched Battleground Texas, a sprawling statewide initiative focused on energizing Democratic voters in purple areas through face-to-face, door-to-door engagement. And then Texas’ longest-serving governor, Rick Perry, announced that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term in office, leaving the top statewide office up for grabs.
Everyone who’s covered, or been involved in, Texas state politics for the last 20 years has been listening to the same song on repeat: Republicans win, and they win big. But now someone’s turned the dial, and nobody knows what to call this new tune, or even what the lyrics might be.
Last summer, Davis’ filibuster brought thousands of Texans from around the state to the Austin capitol building—literally and virtually—in support of abortion rights, bucking the easy mainstream narrative that Texans are a seething red monolith, more’s the pity for the handful of hapless Democrats too foolish to abandon their lost cause of a state to the party of Perry. And Davis’ support for public education funding and teachers’ rights has garnered the fervent approval of middle-of-the-road Texas parents and educators, who have often convened at the capitol to cheer her on as she opposes Tea Partiers crowing about the coming charter school revolution.
And though they technically run separately, Davis shares the top of a historic two-woman Democratic ticket with lieutenant governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte, the powerful San Antonio state senator who gave Davis what may be the most epic political assist of all time when she made the parliamentary inquiry heard ‘round the world just before midnight on June 25, 2013, minutes before Davis’ filibuster was to end: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”
Van de Putte’s question sent hundreds of Texans in the senate gallery into a righteous, fifteen-minute froth, and made it impossible for the GOP-led senate to pass the omnibus anti-abortion bill that was then known as SB 5.
Van de Putte, a Latina and a licensed pharmacist, has been a formidable presence in the Texas legislature since 1990, when she was first elected to a representative seat. She became a senator in a special election in 1999, and is perhaps most widely respected for the work she’s done to support veterans in Texas. In contrast, Van de Putte’s opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race, Houston Tea Partier Dan Patrick, was elected to the state senate in 2008. Patrick is a conservative talk radio host and former owner of a chain of sports bars.
Despite the fact that both parties are running very different, very big-personality candidates, Davis has almost exclusively borne the brunt of both legitimate and bad-faith criticism, and she has been the primary subject of an outsized share of the 2014 Texas statewide race coverage, perhaps because of her novelty as a viable Democrat—and a woman, at that.
And yet the strengths that make Davis a potential winner are, simultaneously, the very weaknesses that seem to bring her down. It all depends on who you ask.
To the anti-choice talk-radio crowd, Davis continues to be “Abortion Barbie,” too blonde and not nearly matronly enough to garner anything but outright misogynistic derision from Erick Erickson, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk. To the national media, Davis is the sneaker-wearing—never, never forget the pink sneakers—underdog about whom a steady stream of “Can she or can’t she?” stories must be written until election day. To Texas political wonks, she’s a charismatic leader playing a losing hand as poll after poll shows her trailing Greg Abbott by double digits. To Texas’ long-beleaguered liberal media, she’s Moses without a map.
And Davis is also under tremendous political pressure to appeal to a wide array of moderate, liberal, and progressive voters that an ever-rightward leaning Texas GOP has long left behind.
To those who would or could support her, she variously: talks too much about abortion, doesn’t talk enough about abortion, secretly wants to militarize the border, wants to give all immigrants citizenship starting tomorrow, is an out-of-touch capitol insider, needs more experience in the capitol, should focus on Medicaid expansion, should get tougher on environmental concerns, should spend more time in the Rio Grande Valley, should stop pandering to people in the Rio Grande Valley, needs to recapture that filibuster spirit, should stop relying on the filibuster to carry her through November, and so-on and so-forth, and lo, the list lengthens as November 4 grows closer.
Wendy Davis just can’t seem to do anything right, and nobody on either side of the aisle seems to mind weighing in on the nuances of why, and how, she’s setting herself—and by extension, all Texas Democrats—up to fail this November.
Meanwhile, Greg Abbott—whose Republican party just weeks ago recommended “reparative therapy” for gay people and called for easing foster parents’ ability to use corporal punishment on their wards—is taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Koch chemical companies before handing down favorable AG rulings that lessen the corporate behemoth’s public safety obligations, and all folks seem to want to know is what he’s thinking for the window treatments in that big, pretty governor’s mansion at 11th and Lavaca in downtown Austin.
Democrats on the Defensive
If things look a little off to you, you’re not the only one who thinks so. I talked with Genevieve Van Cleve, an Austin-based Democratic political consultant and executive director of the new Texas Women Vote Project, who describes the experience of running a Democratic campaign in Texas as something just short of all-out chaos.
“You have to remember about Wendy’s campaign, or any Democratic campaign statewide, what they’re being asked to do,” said Van Cleve: “You’re trying to drive the train, corral the people on the train, fix the tracks, and build new tracks at the same time.”
“For the longest time,” she continued, there’s been “no serious Democratic infrastructure” in Texas. Not only are Democrats running the train, corralling passengers, laying and fixing tracks, but they’re doing it on a shoestring, amid a cacophony of criticism from dilettantes and campaign experts alike.
When I talk about folks’ breezy enthusiasm for criticizing the Davis campaign, I have to be clear that I’m also pointing the finger at myself. Particularly on Twitter, I have been a vocal critic of what I see as the Davis campaign’s potentially politically fatal reluctance to talk frankly and frequently about threats to legal abortion access in Texas. That criticism earned me the ire of Davis’ communications director, Zac Petkanas, who dismissed me from the Davis press email list after I asked him if he, or Davis herself, would be available for comment for this piece.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the interview.
Van Cleve, on the other hand, sees things differently than I do, illustrating just how differently those who might support Democrats in Texas can view the very same campaigns.
“The thing that’s happening to [Van de Putte and Davis] is the only thing that is being talked about is reproductive rights,” said Van Cleve. She said she rarely sees the conversation go deeper than that, and wonders why abortion has taken center stage when the differences in policy making—and in readiness for office—between Davis and Abbott and Van de Putte and Patrick are, in her view, so very drastic.
“Talking about [Davis and Van de Putte], leaving out the rest of their records, is ghettoizing what their interests might be,” said Van Cleve. She said that focusing on abortion rights and background stories—trying to pin down exactly when Davis got divorced, or fawning over Van de Putte as a lovable abuela—”is not telling the whole story,” for either candidate.
“In 2008, when Annie’s List approached [Davis] to run for office,” Van Cleve remembered, “She was a Fort Worth city councilperson who worked on both sides of the aisle, a conservative Democrat. That’s who I met.”
“The shoes are wonderful,” continued Van Cleve. They’re great. “But,” she added, “we have substantive issues that face everyday people in this state. And the shrill rhetoric, and the inability to lead or govern by the other side, should give everyone—regardless of party affiliation—pause.”
Van Cleve put it bluntly: “How much did Abbott take from the Koch brothers and when did he take it? Was it while West, Texas, was blowing up or when they were burying their dead?”
Whither Filibuster Wendy?
It’s an excellent question, and one that the Davis campaign has taken as a major focus this summer, with Davis going on a seven-city tour highlighting Abbott’s impotent suggestion that Texans “drive around” and ask potentially explosive chemical facilities what’s being stored on-site.
But as the Texas Observer’s Forrest Wilder noted in a recent commentary piece, the Davis campaign hasn’t proactively given the public much to work with. The campaign appears to prefer instead to take a reactionary stance to Abbott’s alleged ethical violations and campaign gaffes, which run the gamut from extremely serious (like the Koch donations in the wake of the West, Texas, chemical plant explosion) to pathetically sexist: earlier this year, a Texas Republican consulting firm’s staffer, employed by a former Abbott political consultant and current Dan Patrick strategist, started a political action committee called “Boats ‘N Hoes.”
The “issues” section of Davis’ website lists just four priorities: “education,” “strong economy,” “government accountability,” and “veterans.” And while Davis lays out a strong four-part proposal for the future of public education in Texas, the other three sections read as little more than bland political nothingspeak, with lines like “She supports measures to root out corruption and waste from government agencies.”
Nowhere does the Davis campaign site indicate that Davis supports a $9.6 billion federally funded Medicaid expansion, which has been rejected by Rick Perry, that could help one million Texans get health insurance, though Davis has spoken about the expansion briefly in public appearances. Nowhere does the site situate Davis on immigration, though she did issue a press release earlier this summer calling for more Texas DPS officers at the border.
Bold, out-of-the-gate approaches to these issues would set Davis leagues apart from Greg Abbott, but so far her campaign always seems to be waiting on the attorney general to make the first move. Davis even released her own education plan—arguably one of her very strongest issues—after Abbott’s campaign released his.
The result is a conversation that continues to be defined by Abbott, and Abbott’s supporters, and puts Davis on the defensive. At the end of July, I received a Davis fundraising mailer trotting out the year-old “Abortion Barbie” attack, with a bonus note about Abbott’s affiliation with Ted Nugent, the gun-toting aging rocker who once called President Obama a “mongrel.”
It’s certainly a sad commentary on the state of American political discourse when right-wing pundits spew sexist snark about Wendy Davis, and it’s more than a little disturbing, not to mention confusing, that an attorney general who prides himself on his tough stance against online child pornography pals around with an admitted sexual predator, but I fail to see what either of those things tell us about who Gov. Wendy Davis might be.
This reactionary approach—one that, time after time, seems to say little more than the obvious: that Wendy Davis is not Greg Abbott—is strangely timid for a lawmaker who stood on the floor of the Texas senate and talked about abortion for 13 hours. But even the filibuster that made Davis famous has been de-clawed by the new campaign narrative: On June 25, 2013, Davis “headed to the senate floor to fight against the closing of women’s health clinics all across the state.”
That’s not an untrue statement, but to my mind, it unnecessarily downplays the unprecedented bravery shown by Davis on that day, when she read real Texas abortion stories as hundreds of Texans looked on from the gallery, and hundreds of thousands more people in Texas and around the United States watched on a live-stream from the halls of the state capitol and in their living rooms and work places.
Even at the official Davis campaign event marking the anniversary of a day that radicalized, and re-radicalized, Texans who had long felt ignored by conservatives, Tea Partiers, and anti-choice Democrats, Davis used the word “abortion” just once in a 24-minute speech.
I can’t repeat this often enough: The bill that Wendy Davis filibustered on June 25, 2013—to the wonder and amazement of thousands of orange-shirted supporters spilling out onto the capitol steps and into the streets of downtown Austin—was not about “women’s health clinics,” or cancer screenings and contraceptives. It was about abortion clinics and abortion doctors, and people who get legal abortions in Texas.
No other issue has ever before inspired thousands—literally thousands—of left-leaning Texans and Democratic voters to jump in their cars and drive, sometimes hundreds of miles, to Austin to pack the halls of the capitol building for weeks on end. Those folks didn’t show up to fight for birth control and Pap smears. They showed up to fight for their right to get legal abortions, for doctors’ ability to provide legal abortions, and for clinics’ ability to stay open and provide a safe location at which those abortions can be performed. And those Texans, whether they made it to the capitol last summer or not, have continued to fight relentlessly, doggedly, to keep abortion clinics open and to shuttle abortion-seeking Texans to the few remaining cities that house legal abortion providers.
When Wendy Davis, and her fellow Democrats, came out as strongly for abortion rights as Texas Republicans have come out against abortion rights, they did something that the Texas Democratic Party has repeatedly failed to do over the last 20 years: They made two candidates—two women candidates—into bona-fide heroes of the politically disenfranchised Texas left. Nobody was putting Bill White quotes on t-shirts back in 2010, or photoshopping Chris Bell into the role of a badass HBO protagonist in 2006.
Texans have not given up the fight, but it does feel as though Davis wants to distance herself from that remarkable summer, a summer that, at the Texas capitol, was all about abortion rights. For Davis to hedge on her language one year later—a year in which more than 35 abortion providers will have closed their doors because they cannot comply with HB 2—is more than disappointing to her most passionate supporters. It’s heartbreaking, and it feels like a regression into the frazzled and timorous Texas Democratic Party that has struggled to stay afloat in Texas for two decades.
Davis herself seemed to speak directly to folks like me—folks who fear that she’s become reluctant to embrace the very issue that shot her to the top of the statewide ticket—at that recent “Women for Wendy” fundraiser outside of Austin. She warned that too heavily focusing on abortion—as opposed to speaking more generally about “women’s health care”—would simply galvanize the anti-choice base: “They hate it,” she said, “When we talk about it in terms of women’s health care. They’d much rather that we talk about it in terms of abortion.”
Which is, certainly, true. While I’ve had many conversations over the past several weeks with people who share my concerns, I have found that a couple of prominent Texas anti-choice activists have been excited to retweet me when I point out—rightly—that what Davis stood for on June 25, 2013, was not “women’s health care” writ large, but abortion access very specifically.
“There have been a lot folks who have said, ‘She’s running away from that issue,’” Davis continued. “Which is absurd. Anyone who knows me, and knows the 13 hours that I stood, knows what I stand for as it pertains to reproductive rights.”
And yet here I am, naysaying nevertheless, worrying that while many Texans do indeed know where Davis stands on abortion rights—13-hour filibuster aside, Davis is hardly an abortion rights radical, politically speaking—more people, moderates who know only vaguely of last summer’s filibuster, or those potential voters who’ve never heard the name “Wendy Davis,” do not know just how stark the contrast is between Davis’ thoroughly moderate take in support of abortion rights, one that aligns with the standards of mainstream medicine espoused by groups like the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the GOP and Greg Abbott’s position against them.
However, if the Davis campaign is indeed afraid of exciting anti-choice opponents by talking about abortion, Abbott seems even more reluctant to make any strong statements on the matter. After HB 2 passed in 2013, Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA called Abbott out for plainly “dodging” the question of where he stands on abortion, and in a mystifying Houston Chronicle interview given around the same time, Abbott simply lets his wife take over, allowing her to imply that the two of them oppose abortion even in the case of rape or incest. The Texas GOP platform, however, is clear: it expressly calls for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.
In fact, Abbott seems comfortable with letting his anti-choice supporters take “Abortion Barbie” and unofficially run with it. Except, of course, for instances where the attorney general’s office must, in its official capacity, defend HB 2 in federal court, more or less forcing Abbott’s office to go on the record as fully supporting a bill that will close more than 35 existing Texas abortion facilities.
And yet the Davis campaign has failed entirely to comment publicly either on Abbott’s abortion-related equivocating in the news media or on the ongoing court battle over HB 2, even as one of Greg Abbott’s deputy attorneys-general argued in open court, with the blessing of Abbott’s office itself, that if Texas women want abortions so badly, they can drive to New Mexico. To me, that clearly gives lie to Republican claims that their foremost concern, while passing an anti-abortion law in special session with the urgency of a four-alarm fire, was with the health and safety of abortion-seeking Texans.
Is this not a ripe opportunity for Davis to get out in front of an issue that so many Texans support her on? Davis’ most recent campaign fundraising numbers—reflecting donations that came in during the height of filibuster nostalgia—show her out-raising Abbott in the same period. What better way could there be to gauge the readiness of Texans to have a frank conversation about abortion than to see their support for someone like Wendy Davis laid out plainly in dollars and cents?
Can Democrats Make Their Own Luck?
As Davis was gearing up to commemorate the 2013 filibuster, I called Harold Cook, the former political director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas—he worked on the ground to get pro-choice support for Ann Richards back in 1990—and a regular Democratic commentator on state politics newscasts, to get some perspective on my concerns. He told me that it’s “virtually impossible for anyone outside the campaign to know how the campaign is going.”
“It’s not time yet to start spending any money on communications, because voters aren’t paying any attention yet, and probably won’t until August,” explained Cook.
Texas has some of the priciest media markets in the nation, making statewide political advertising a costly venture. Polls—which Davis has so far struggled in—generally only include likely voters, and in Texas that means the folks picking up the phone, or clicking on the link, are most likely to be members of the GOP’s anti-choice primary base.
Cook and I spoke just after Davis replaced a D.C.-grown campaign director with North Texas local and state Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), a move that the Associated Press, an ostensible bastion of journalistic objectivity, declared as a sign that “a run that began with national fanfare and sky-high hopes of a major blue victory in one of America’s reddest states has floundered against a strong Republican favorite.”
Has floundered. Not because Davis has been accused of egregious ethical violations concerning campaign donations, or because she told Texans it was their responsibility to police chemical plants in their own backyards, or because she campaigned alongside a gun-obsessive former rock star with a criminal attraction to teenage girls—no, those things can only be attributed to Greg Abbott—but because Davis hired a new campaign director.
Cook just couldn’t see it, calling the Turner hire “a hell of a pick-up” while admitting that he’s “really biased,” having known Turner “on and off for 17 years.”
“I don’t think that signals any sort of disarray at all, and in fact quite the opposite,” Cook told me. “When you have somebody who’s that good, and will work that hard, and is that trusted, it can’t help but be a net gain.”
Both Cook and Genevieve Van Cleve of the Texas Women Vote Project compared Davis, perhaps inevitably, to Ann Richards and the race she won against Republican Clayton Williams in 1990.
The most recent polling numbers, from an Internet poll conducted by YouGov and the New York Times, show Davis trailing Abbott by 17 percent, though Davis’ communications director called the numbers “about as useful as a winter coat in Houston,” noting that many likely Davis voters—lower income Texans—don’t have Internet connections.
Van Cleve, who’s only ever worked for female candidates, says she’s more than used to the doomsayers that flock not only to Texas Democratic campaigns, but especially to Democrat women.
“Ann Richards was not winning this time of year,” said Van Cleve. “She was probably down a little bit more. All the races I’ve worked on for Annie’s List? Let me tell ya, we were never up in July.”
Van Cleve remained optimistic, and said she would rely on the summer financial reports from Davis and her field operations at Battleground Texas, to evaluate where Texas Democrats stand 100 days before the election in November.
“Four months is an eternity in political campaign time,” Van Cleve said. With good fundraising numbers and a strong field operation, “there’s any number of things where they’re making their own luck.”
Limited Time, Limited Money in Local Races
And indeed, things are looking pretty good on the financial front for Davis and Van de Putte—both out-raised their Republican opponents in the last fundraising period—but they’re hardly the only Democrats fighting Republican candidates for a seat at the capitol this November. In North Texas, where what little water that’s still running in a county operating under stage 3 drought restrictions seems to run red, a lawyer named Sameena Karmally found herself so fed up with what she saw last summer from her district’s eight-year Republican incumbent, Jodie “Rape Kits Clean a Woman Out” Laubenberg, that she decided to go after that HD 89 spot, even if it meant running what’s turned out to be largely a one-woman campaign office.
“I decided to run because I was there over last summer, I was watching on the live-stream like everyone else, and I thought, ‘We have just been pushed into a corner,’” Karmally told me by phone, between stints juggling the never-ending demands of managing voter outreach and fundraising while raising two kids as a stay-at-home mom.
“No one ran against [Laubenberg] for eight years, and that’s the only reason she’s still here,” said Karmally. “She’s never had a huge presence with our community here.”
While Jodie Laubenberg sits as the Texas state chair for the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, which composes right-wing model legislation for state lawmakers, and famously sponsored the anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered, Karmally says she must “focus on the persuasives” with her potential supporters, which means reproductive health takes a back seat to education and water issues. No matter how notorious Laubenberg may have become last summer among the Democratic base after she asserted that rape kits were tantamount to abortion.
“I have to strike a balance,” Karmally said. “I think people know where I stand on [abortion].” She said she’ll rely on the Democrat base to come out and vote on the straight ticket, while working on educating her potential constituents on the very basics—many have never been approached by a house candidate, she said—and hearing, from them, what they’d like her to work on in Austin.
“Frankly, I think many potential voters have disengaged because they’re tired of politicians who just want to stir up anger, fear, resentment, and divisiveness,” said Karmally, whose parents brought her to North Texas from India when she was just 3 years old. She said the folks she talks to at civic meetings and during phone banks are much more concerned with their everyday needs—like water and good local public schools—than with posturing about open carry laws or the imagined threat of immigrants carrying “exotic diseases.”
And voters in her district have now found out “that oil and gas companies can use as much water as they want,” despite the county’s drought conditions, Karmally says, “because of a failure of leadership by Laubenberg,” who’s a member of their Regional Water Planning Group.
So while it may have been Laubenberg’s performance last summer at the capitol that prompted Karmally to run, she’s discovering that her potential constituents have a variety of pressing needs that include, but don’t end at, reproductive health care. And she can’t always talk about it all.
“It’s just a matter of efficiency, having limited time and limited money and having to tip those last few thousand people,” said Karmally.
It doesn’t sound so different from what Davis and Van de Putte are attempting on a statewide scale, with thousands of volunteers prepared to go door-to-door in the late summer heat as part of a new voting rights effort that the Davis campaign, Battleground Texas, and the Texas Democratic Party are hailing as “unprecedented” in a state with the worst voter turnout—Republican or Democrat—in the country.
Battleground Takes It to the (Purple) Streets
“We’re pretty much the entire Wendy Davis field operation,” says Erica Sackin, the new Battleground Texas communications director, over the din of 25 phone-banking volunteers making call after call to their North Texas neighbors. Sackin, who’s been on the job just a few weeks, met me at the Collin County Democratic Party headquarters, a narrow suite in a nondescript shopping center surrounding a Plano Whataburger.
Sackin introduced me to two of Battleground’s “fellows,” young volunteers who are spending their summer block-walking and phone-banking for Davis. They are Sarah Al-Shalash and Sam Alleman, aged 17 and 19, respectively. Al-Salash won’t even be old enough to vote come election day, with her 18th birthday coming at the end of November. And yet she attends a summer program at Southern Methodist University while also volunteering 40 hours a week with Battleground. Alleman, a student at George Washington University, works full-time as a medical billing assistant, and says he spends just as many hours at the Collin County campaign office.
When the four of us piled into a cramped back room in the strip mall, the two teens both told me that Davis’ filibuster was responsible for getting them into the Battleground game.
“I was watching the filibuster, and it was super exciting to see a woman standing up for women’s issues in Texas,” Al-Shalash said. Alleman echoed her enthusiastically: “Guts is a good word for it!”
But while the Davis filibuster may have been a gateway into political action for Al-Shalash and Alleman, neither seemed to jump at the opportunity to talk about reproductive rights, citing Davis’ position on education as their most important issues, and spoke in broad terms about Davis’ appeal to average Texans.
“I like the values she represents,” said Alleman. “She fights for all Texans, and I think Wendy represents them.” He said Plano is growing so fast, more funding for public schools is an absolute necessity.
“Teachers are going classroom to classroom,” he said, without a home base in their own schools. And Al-Shalash, who goes to school in the well-funded Dallas exurb of Frisco, says she sees her friends in less affluent districts struggle without the resources her school enjoys.
Alleman and Al-Shalash told me that the folks they talk to on block walks and during phone banks agree, anxious to hear about Davis’ educational platform even if they only know her, vaguely, from news reports about last summer’s filibuster.
But the best moments come, Al-Shalash said, when she gets to talk to an undecided voter.
“If I happen to have a conversation and someone was undecided before, and at the end of the conversation they seem really excited, that’s so awesome.”
Al-Shalash may have many more of those kinds of “awesome” conversations if the Battleground/Davis campaign/Texas Democratic Party’s new “voter protection program,” which focuses on voter registration, voter education, early voting, and poll-watching on election day, goes to plan.
And while the voting initiative’s rollout is underway, Planned Parenthood announced in late July that it would embark on the “most aggressive campaign it has ever waged in Texas,” spending $3 million educating the public on women’s issues in state and local races, especially reaching out to the women voters—Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans—who Wendy Davis told her “Women for Wendy” crowd she will “tremendously depend upon” for a win in November.
In contrast, the San Antonio Express-News reported that Texas’ two largest anti-choice groups have spent just $450,000 in 2014 on bolstering Republican candidates. The executive director of the anti-choice group Texas Alliance for Life has called Planned Parenthood Texas Vote’s plan a “wake-up call.”
“Grand Old Problem”?
Things appear to be heating up on the ground for Texas Democrats while a series of embarrassing gaffes—and even criminal activity—seems to have somewhat dulled the shine of the Texas GOP. Yet still members of the media continue to have trouble situating even the most questionable Republican candidates as anything but sure bets.
Nine months after Texas Monthly anointed Abbott as “The Gov*”, the magazine is running a commentary piece by right-leaning writer Erica Grieder in its August 2014 issue entitled “Grand Old Problem.” In it, Grieder lays out the many foibles and failures of this year’s Texas Republican Party—including its bizarre interest in abolishing the census—and its candidates, some of whom she outright calls “bozos.”
And yet, Grieder still cannot conceive of a Texas in which Republicans screw up so badly that voters turn to candidates like Davis and Van de Putte. She writes:
The question of whether Texas Democrats will ever have what it takes to win statewide is an open one. No one’s lost money lately betting against their surprising torpor and talent for self-sabotage. Recently, though, a different question seems equally worthwhile. Can Texas Republicans lose? They are certainly giving it a good try.
Indeed they are. The GOP candidate for attorney general, Ken Paxton, who is vying for Abbott’s soon-to-be-vacant position against a Democrat named Sam Houston (yes, really), is currently the subject of an actual criminal investigation into allegations that he violated state securities law. Paxton has already been reprimanded by the Texas State Securities Board, which in May fined him $1,000 for selling securities without a license.
And yet, all the Houston Chronicle can come up with is that Paxton’s “ethics record can at least keep the attorney general’s race interesting” for Democrats. Interesting.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, state Sen. Dan Patrick has virtually disappeared from the public eye since his appearance at the Texas GOP convention on June 7, surfacing only to report that he’s raised $1 million since defeating incumbent David Dewhurst in the May primary.
In the meantime, Leticia Van de Putte has been a constant presence in the media over the last several weeks as concerns over unaccompanied minors at the Texas border have made national headlines—this despite the fact that Dan Patrick relied on “illegal invasion” rhetoric to successfully shore up his profile with a thoroughly xenophobic GOP primary voter base. Van de Putte also reported out-raising Patrick by a half-million dollars in the last fundraising report period.
And yet, few hand-wringing reporters have surfaced, wondering: Where is Dan Patrick?
More broadly, the Texas GOP simply struggles to connect with groups of key voters. The party denied the gay and lesbian conservative group Log Cabin Republicans the opportunity to table at the 2014 party convention. There are no women at all on the 15-candidate statewide GOP ticket this year. And as unaccompanied minors cross the Texas-Mexico border in search of refuge from drug cartel violence in Latin and Central America, Rick Perry has been seen pretending to patrol the border in near-riot gear, calling for the National Guard’s assistance in rounding up school-aged kids trying to survive thousands of miles from their families.
One can’t help but wonder: while we’re asking whether Texas Democrats have a prayer, might we have time to ask Texas Republicans whether they have a soul?
Image: Andrea Grimes
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