Politics & Policy

Protesters Clash in Austin Over Abortion

Protest signs outside the Texas Capitol in Austin on July 9.
Pro-life legislation in Texas draws both sides to the capital.

Austin, Texas — Tuesday in the Texas Capitol was pretty loud. Lots of pro-choice protesters, lots of pro-life protesters, lots of cameras flashing, lots and lots and lots of state police officers, you know the deal. But in the House chamber itself, where members debated the merits of more than two dozen amendments to the pro-life legislation that gave state senator Wendy Davis a springboard to national celebrity and drew a smorgasbord of threats and verbal abuse to its supporters, things were sedate. Though pro-life and pro-choice protesters had what can only be characterized as a shouting match in the rotunda of the big brown building that (interestingly) is taller than the U.S. Capitol, none of that yelling was audible in the chamber where Democrats (and two Republicans) tried to tack on a panoply of amendments to the legislation. As the vote on the bill finally came, though — at nearly 10 p.m. — a dull roar from right outside the chamber started seeping in.#ad#

The pro-choice protesters in Austin aren’t very subtle. On Tuesday night they greeted departing legislators with shouts of “Shame on you!” And though the crowd on Wednesday was small and comparatively subdued, five protesters were arrested after the House had the final vote to pass the bill. According to the Houston Chronicle, one shouted, “As a queer woman of color I object to these proceedings!” before being carried from the gallery by a few officers.

There was never much of a question as to whether or not the proceedings raised objections. Check the #feministarmy hashtag on Twitter, or consider the treatment of Senator Donna Campbell or Representative Jodie Laubenberg, or reflect for a bit on why almost 300 state troopers had to be called into Austin to do crowd control.

On Monday, more than 3,800 people gathered to register their opposition to the bill (more than 1,700 pro-life protesters registered in support), and that night, thousands marched in a slow loop through downtown Austin in an orange flood, waving signs, blaring music, and chanting. One man pushed a stroller holding a toddler. His sign, perched on the stroller, read, “Perry is LITERALLY RAPING WOMEN’S RIGHTS ! !” Another sign read, “DUMPSTER BABIES AGAINST PERRY.” Pro-choice protesters don’t like Rick Perry very much.

But they weren’t the only group to process south from the Capitol. On Tuesday, while the House was debating amendments on the bill, a much tinier group of Roman Catholics had a Eucharistic procession, singing, “O sacrament most holy, o sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine” under the hot sun.  

The night before, before the pro-choice march, pro-life advocates had hosted a huge rally on the steps of the Capitol. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Attorney General (and soon-to-declare gubernatorial candidate) Greg Abbott, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Duggar, and other pro-life notables spoke to the crowd. During that rally a handful of pro-choice protesters gathered under a tree, with a sign on the ground in front of them that read, “You Oppress We Resist.” They also had piles of fliers, including one called “Green Blooded: An Introduction to Eco-Friendly Feminine Hygiene” and another called “Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service 1968–1973.” The latter pamphlet contained the following words from Judith Arcana, who volunteered in Chicago’s underground abortion service:

I performed abortions, I have had an abortion and I am in favor of women having abortions when we choose to do so. But we should never disregard the fact that being pregnant means there is a baby growing inside of a woman, a baby whose life is ended. We ought not to pretend this is not happening. . . . I definitely do want to talk about the fact that when you are pregnant, there is a baby growing inside of you. 

The pro-life members of the Texas House couldn’t have agreed on very much with the orange-clad protesters who met them outside the chamber, but they would agree that an abortion kills a baby. So the Texas House voted to prohibit it after 20 weeks. The state senate will probably follow suit on Friday, and then Governor Perry will sign the bill, and then — barring a successful challenge in the courts — it will be harder for a lot of people to get abortions in the Lone Star State. Before that happens, the protesters will be back. They will object to the proceedings. And the proceedings, I presume, will go on.

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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