It’s a Wendy Davis nation, now

For years, Democrats' pro-choice stance was blamed for losing "values" voters. Today, that's all changing fast

Topics: Editor's Picks, Wendy Davis, Abortion, Reproductive Rights, women, Anti-abortion movement, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood, Roe v. Wade,

It's a Wendy Davis nation, nowWendy Davis (Credit: AP/Eric Gay)

The shouting came, like water bursting from a broken levee, just before midnight. The hundreds, maybe thousands, of orange-shirted activists camped out in the Texas Capitol had done everything they could to stall a vote on an abortion-restricting bill — from staging a citizen’s filibuster late last week, to cheering on the 13-hour one by Sen. Wendy Davis that Tuesday night.

“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” demanded an exasperated Sen. Leticia van de Putte, who had come from her father’s funeral and was trying to prevent the filibuster from being dismantled on procedural grounds. Her words were what did it. Minutes to the deadline for the end of the special session, Senate Republicans seemed to be calling a vote, and shouting was all that was left.

For years, observers have said the enthusiasm and mobilization is on the antiabortion side, but not that night. It was still a game of defense, but pro-choice politicians and activists were pushing back harder than ever seen before.

Cecile Richards — president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of legendary Texas Gov. Ann Richards — was there, shouting too.  ”My mother would have said, I hear America singing,” Richards told Salon after leaving the Capitol. “It was literally an explosion of participatory democracy that I haven’t seen the likes of in Texas in my memory.”

The official Twitter account for Barack Obama agreed, tweeting a link to the livestream with, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

When the shouting began, pro-choice activist and writer Jessica Luther, who had been prodigiously tweeting, saw her followers outside Texas, who were watching the livestream, say to keep it going, that it was working. In the end, “The yelling was how it was defeated,” said Luther. “They couldn’t get the votes done because they couldn’t talk to each other.”

The Texas fight is by no means over: On Wednesday evening, Perry announced he would call another special session, one too long to filibuster, and the probable vote count remains in his favor. But this time, no one will be surprised when opponents — likely hundreds more — put up a massive fight.

* * *



This is not how this was supposed to happen. Rick Perry, a faithful soldier of the antiabortion cause, had seen some resistance to his push to require transvaginal ultrasounds and viewings before abortion and to defund Planned Parenthood in his state, but nothing like this. And the provisions in question — from a ban on abortions after 20 weeks to requiring admitting privileges at hospitals and other trumped-up regulations on abortion providers — have passed easily in several other conservative states. In fact, the 20-week abortion ban, predicated on the principle of highly scientifically questionable and wholly constitutionally irrelevant “fetal pain,” was designed to be a trap akin to the bruising “partial birth abortion” fights of the ’90s and early 2000s. Democrats who opposed the ban, the thinking had gone, would be forced to defend less-popular, if rare, later abortions; others, fearing the political consequences of the past, would turn and run, chipping away at the abortion right. And then ideally it would go to the Supreme Court, like the “partial birth abortion” ban did twice, and hopefully undermine Roe v. Wade.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed such a ban earlier this month, but it has no hope of passage in the Senate or a signature from the president, which leaves the states. And Texas has long been at the frontier of the abortion rights battle, starting with its 1973 defense of its statute criminalizing abortion — which led to Roe v. Wade. Like many other red states, the Republican landslide of 2010, purportedly about economic discontent, ramped up what had been a decades-long campaign to limit reproductive rights. But in Texas, it all tended to play out on a typically massive scale. It was Texas that was the first state to have in effect a law forcing women to look at ultrasounds before abortion, that tried to shut down Planned Parenthood in its state by dismantling women’s health funding. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, which is headquartered in Dallas, was the first to learn that it had underestimated broad support for Planned Parenthood, presaging the presidential election.

But as much as that election’s “war on women” rhetoric included a broad range of attacks on reproductive rights, the headlines were dominated by attacks on birth control and the rights of rape survivors, not abortion, on which polls show Americans have complicated and divided feelings. David Axelrod said as much in a March 31 appearance on “Meet the Press.” Guest host Chuck Todd said, “The issue of reproductive rights was something you exploited in your campaign,” and Axelrod agreed.

For years — particularly the ones Democrats spent in the wilderness, losing national elections — the party’s pro-choice stance was blamed for losing so-called values voters. Axelrod pointed out how that had changed: “These were motivational issues for people on our side … What’s interesting to me is that these were once wedge issues for Republicans. Now some of them are working as wedge issues against Republicans. And it shows a shift of attitudes.”

Gay rights, of course, have long since lost any traction as a wedge issue in Republicans’ favor in all but the narrowest districts. It remains to be seen how the immigration reform debate will play out politically, but the 2012 election and its “self-deportation” rhetoric is widely seen to have driven away Latinos and Asians. And of course there was defunding Planned Parenthood and Todd Akin. But, Axelrod added, abortion wasn’t part of that. Or, as he put it, “Abortion’s a separate discussion.”

If this week was any indication — along with recent protests in Wisconsin and Ohio, and possibly more to come — that may not prove true.

* * *

At the Texas Capitol Wednesday, Republicans seemed caught off guard. They didn’t seem to have expected to need reinforcements: Eyewitnesses saw few antiabortion protesters, who wore blue shirts, among the orange throngs. And if they were aware of the nearly 200,000 people watching on the livestream, it didn’t prevent them from trying to shut down the process, whether with spurious points of order or by changing the time stamps to make it seem the vote had taken place before midnight, which ultimately sank the bill for the time being. That livestream mattered not just for the outside world, but for the protesters who couldn’t fit into the gallery and snaked around every stairway and crevice in the building.

“I know the GOP wants to take us back to the policies of the ’60s, but they also seem to think we still have the technology they had in the ’60s,” said Andrea Grimes, who was covering the events for RH Reality Check.

At the same time, Democrats in the Senate were emboldened. ”You could see the senators growing in stature as they came out to speak to the rotunda. They were so energized by having the kind of support that they did,” said Richards. “There have been senators there who have not voted in support of abortion rights but who really saw that this was an attempt to shut down women’s healthcare and that it went far beyond abortion rights.” She said there were protesters “ages 8 to 80,” and that the 8-year-old had started a Twitter account she herself was following.

Afterward, in the rotunda, Richards announced to massive applause that she had gotten a text message saying the bill was dead. The Texas Tribune livestream had ended, and someone was livestreaming from his iPhone with impromptu commentary. A chant of “we’re not waiting for 2014″ went up.

They can’t afford to: Davis nearly lost her seat to redistricting that the Department of Justice agreed was in violation of the Voting Rights Act — the same one profoundly undermined by the Supreme Court this week. Democratic activists have set their sights on turning Texas blue in the long term, with an eye toward Latino citizens and mobilized young people. This week’s showdown in the Capitol could be a harbinger — but only if people can actually vote and be represented.

Referring to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s calling the protesters an “unruly mob,” Richards said, “It must have been a rude shock for him that people were paying attention … He hasn’t seen participatory democracy in a really long time.”

For now, as the fight goes forward, abortion rights are no longer consigned to the back of the Democratic coalition, turned into another way to make Republicans seem like the party of the past. Davis is a star, and thousands of Texans are not only furious, they’ve got the attention of the world.

“I feel like we saw the future,” said Luther. “We saw what Texas can be.”

Irin Carmon

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at icarmon@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...