A small group of protesters gathered in downtown Austin Wednesday night to protest what Governor Greg Abbott has promised will be an upcoming legislative session further targeting reproductive rights. Wearing Halloween costumes and holding signs reading “Greg Abbott Hates Women” and “Keep Abortion Legal,” the group stood silently outside a major fundraising dinner for the anti-abortion lobby group Texas Alliance for Life (TAL).
Inside the Austin Hilton, Texas Alliance for Life recognized Abbott with an award for “his long record of success in public office” and leadership on efforts to restrict access to abortion.
“Governor Abbott, because of you, because of what you have done to protect those most vulnerable among us, Texas is not the same,” TAL executive director Joe Pojman said, introducing the governor.
Abbott promised banquet attendees that he’d renew efforts to restrict access to abortion come January, promoting his “LIFE Initiative.” Abbott said his plan would make “partial-birth abortions” — a non-medical catch-all term for later term procedures, which are already heavily restricted throughout the country — a felony offense. The initiative would also expand Texas’ child-support enforcement program and, Abbott said, completely defund Planned Parenthood.
“The sale or transfer of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic must be criminalized in the state of Texas,” Abbott said, referring to disproven allegations of illegal fetal tissue sales made against Houston’s Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, which came after anti-abortion activists released secretly filmed footage of clinic employees in 2015.
Since 2011, Texas legislators have been steadily banning Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding, including booting the provider from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program and cutting off funding for the group’s HIV prevention program.
“My promise to the abortion lobby is that Texas will be the strongest pro-life state in the United States of America,” Abbott told the crowd.
Outside, 10 demonstrators from National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Williamson and Travis counties donned witches’ hats, unicorn horns and other festive Halloween garb as they stood stoically in front of the event. The mostly silent protest’s organizer described the group as intent on defending reproductive rights, even as 1,500 abortion opponents gathered inside.
“I don’t think we can change anyone’s mind here, because this is a pro-life banquet,” said Lexie Cooper, who organized the protest. “People have paid upwards of $200 per ticket, $5,000 per table, to be here, so they’re obviously staunchly pro-life.”
Cooper and Austin’s NOW chapter are also ramping up for the legislative session, along with other reproductive rights groups hoping to counter the anti-abortion fervor at the Capitol.
A representative for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said the group hopes to see reproductive care move out of the hands of politicians and back into the hands of medical providers next year.
NARAL communications director Alexa Garcia-Ditta told the Observer that Abbott’s LIFE initiative is “just a continuation of what we’ve been seeing in Texas for years — politicians inserting themselves into doctor-patient relations.”
Back at the Hilton, a few banquet attendees walking into the hotel shouted “Go Greg Abbott!” at the NOW demonstrators, but for the most part, the protest went ignored.
“Really, we want to exercise our First Amendment rights and spread awareness,” Cooper said.
Legislators began tackling issues like funding family planning, equal economic opportunity for women and justice for sexual assault survivors in the early 1970s. Their work continues a half-century later.