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On Roe v. Wade’s 40th Anniversary, Embattled Texas Pro-Choice Activists are Still Hopeful

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Pro-choice activists rally at the Capitol on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade
Jen Reel
Pro-choice activists rally at the Capitol on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Chants of “PRO-CHOICE, PRO-FAMILY” filled the south steps of the Capitol late Tuesday morning, as about 50 people gathered to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

The rally’s speakers ran the gamut from legislators to activists with pink highlights and suffragette sashes. Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) tried to strike a moderate note. “The fact is that none of us want to see more abortions,” she said. “What we want to see are efforts to reduce the need for abortions, and I think we can all work together on that,” she said.

Howard said she was bothered most by the way the issue has been discussed in the Legislature. “It’s condescending for anyone to talk about this as if women aren’t knowledgeable about it, aren’t paying attention, or are cavalierly making these decisions,” she said. “The good news is that since Roe v. Wade, we have actually seen decreases in abortion.”

“It has to be legal. It has to be medically safe. And it has to be rare,” she argued.

Jim Rigby, a progressive Presbyterian minister also spoke at the rally. “We haven’t finished [this work] and we’re not going to finish it until we get as crazy about protecting women’s bodies as men are about protecting their guns,” he said.

Rigby continued, “All of us, men and women have not only a right, but a responsibility to make sure that our daughters and granddaughters are not born into the nightmare of the bloody days before Roe, when abortion was neither safe nor legal.”

Cindy Nolan of Faith Action for Women in Need spoke last. “Folks, in that building, we’re outnumbered and we’re outvoted… We could work tirelessly trying to elect enough pro-women candidates to change the balance in there, and we should do that. But we should do more.”

“We’ve got to repeal every restrictive law that exists, and we won’t rest until we do,” said Nolan, a tall order given the conservative majority in both chambers and the zealotry of Gov. Rick Perry.

Yesterday morning, amidst news coverage of President Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Gov. Perry put out just one press release. It read, in part: “Roe v. Wade paved the way for the loss of more than 54 million innocent lives… We will continue working to empower families and protect our children’s future, until the day abortion is nothing more than a tragic footnote in our nation’s history.”

Perry is backing a “Preborn Pain Act,” legislation that would ban abortions at the 20 week mark, on the premise that a fetus can feel pain as early as this proposed cut off. (Texas currently bans abortion after 24 weeks; ten other states have imposed bans after 20 weeks.)

Going into this session, Rebecca Birch, President-Elect of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Texas, said that she would be following the fetal pain proposal closely, but that, notwithstanding Perry’s sentiments, the 83rd legislative session might actually be a promising one. “I’m starting hopeful,” she said. “I’m hoping that we’ll have enough people and enough power to make some differences.”

“I think that if we start defeated that the chances we’ll be defeated are more likely,” she said.