I just got back to New York after a couple years abroad in Texas, and I’ll be damned if some stupid, awful bullshit didn’t trail home with me. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Texas Legislature is on the verge of passing some incredibly broad anti-abortion legislation , designed to ban abortions after 20 weeks, shut down most clinics in the state under the guise of “improved” safety standards, and make it much harder for women to obtain medication abortions (RU-486, aka the “abortion pill”).
After the bill failed to pass last week, due mostly to a filibuster by state Senator Wendy Davis and thousands of screaming protesters drowning out the vote, Governor Rick Perry immediately called another special session to get the new laws passed. Make no mistake: If they have to lock the doors of the Capitol and head into a nuclear bunker to get this vote on the books, they’ll do it. In the words of Rick Perry, talking about those angry protesters: “The louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done.”
Let’s put aside the incredibly disturbing, rape-y overtones of that sentence for a moment and explain what all this has to do with New York. Because apart from being typical red state bullshit, anti-abortion laws like these could also be a glimpse into New York’s future.
It’s important to understand that Texas Republicans haven’t always been screamingly, red-in-the-face anti-abortion. There was a time that small-government conservatives didn’t think a lady’s lady business was any of theirs–the very subject made them squirmy. But as an excellent Texas Monthly story from August 2012 made clear, in the last decade or so, abortion politics have become a big part of winning elections there, coinciding in large part with the rise of the Tea Party.
“Since there is only one election that matters anymore,” wrote TM‘s Mimi Swartz, referring to the state’s Republican primaries, “It has tended to become a contest over who can move furthest to the right.” That is, whoever loves fetuses the loudest makes it to the general election, where they handily beat some feeble, gray-faced Democrat whose name no one can quite remember the day after. The laws started out slowly, mildly, with things like parental notification laws that many middle-of-the-road Democrats could sort of get behind. Gradually, though, Texas escalated, and the laws became more and more twisted. These days, an abortion there involves a forced sonogram, a mandatory waiting period, and a horrid, pink-tinted little booklet that falsely claims an abortion will put you at risk for breast cancer. This shit happens fast. Not in a session, but in less than one generation.
And although it’s obviously not the same shade of pure crimson, New York’s legislature is beginning to see hints of the very same stupid, pigheaded race to the bottom. We’re talking, of course, about the Women’s Equality Act, which was blocked by legislators at the very end of the session last week.
The WEA was introduced by Governor Cuomo, and seemingly everybody agreed with nine of its 10 points. Strengthening laws against human trafficking? Sexual harassment? Pregnancy discrimination? All fine. The sticking point was, naturally, the abortion stuff.
Cuomo wanted to make absolutely sure that New York women always have the right to access a safe, legal abortion, even a later-term one, no matter what the rest of the country decides to do. He and his supporters are looking at states like Texas (and North Dakota, and Kansas, and Ohio, and on and on and on), where abortion will soon be functionally illegal, by virtue of being impossible to get.
The blowback was immediate, with conservative news outlets like the National Review claiming that the measure was meant to “expand” abortion, “even allowing non-doctors to perform them” (it wouldn’t). Anti-abortion groups yelled loudly, chief among them the New York State Catholic Conference, and the legislators chickened out. (The NYSCC was, coincidentally, the source of the “non-doctors can do doctor stuff” rumor, as well as a claim that abortions would be available until “the moment of birth,” which is actually not legal anywhere. Abortion is illegal in New York after 24 weeks, unless the woman’s life is in danger.)
The Senate passed the nine non-abortion measures, while leaving the abortion one behind. In the end, the whole measure sank, as Democrats bickered among themselves about whether to support the entirety of their principles, or else just act like Democrats. Guess which one they chose.
What New York’s anti-abortion forces learned this session is that it’s easy to make Democrats scatter like frightened bunny rabbits when it comes to defending the whole of women’s rights. The slightest pressure caused the whole ball of women’s equality wax to fall apart. It’s a lesson they’ll bring with them to future legislative sessions, and future efforts to restrict abortion rights in the state.
New York might seem impervious to anti-abortion bullshit; so far, we’ve been lucky to escape the same types of restrictions that have overtaken states like Texas. But the argument over the WEA should serve as a handy reminder that bullshit tumbles down fast. And when it comes, that tide of shit can be nearly impossible to stem.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 1, 2013