Texas’ ‘People’s Filibuster’: Who Was There, What’s at Stake, and What’s Next

Texans are being asked to return to their Capitol building on Sunday in a continued show of solidarity for reproductive rights, after a "people's filibuster" took a committee hearing over the ten-hour mark in the wee hours of the morning Friday.

The last woman to testify at Thursday night's "people's filibuster" in Texas. Andrea Grimes / RH Reality Check

See all our coverage of the “people’s filibuster” against HB 60 here.

UPDATE, 2:55 pm EST: The State Affairs Committee has passed HB 60. 

What happened Thursday night in Texas was not supposed to happen, for a lot of reasons.

Young people, we are told, do not care about reproductive rights.

Old people, we are told, resent a generation that doesn’t appreciate their hard work on reproductive rights.

Men, we are told, can’t be bothered with whether women have access to abortion.

Texas, we are told, is a hopelessly red state full of bumpkins and rednecks that should be allowed to secede so the United States can cut its losses.

But Thursday, Texans of all stripes, from teenagers to septuagenarians who remember what the reproductive rights landscape was like before Roe v. Wade, signed up to testify against an omnibus abortion bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks, shutter all but five abortion clinics in the state, require physicians who provide abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, and make legal medical abortion all but impossible to acquire and prescribe.

They drove in: six hours from the Rio Grande Valley, three hours from Houston and Dallas, an hour and a half from San Antonio. Many were abortion providers and OB-GYNs. Many were lawyers. Many were college students. Many were parents. Seven hundred people in all reportedly signed up to testify, according to a statement made just before midnight by one of the committee members.

But as the night wore on into morning, State Affairs Chair Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) grew tired of all the democracy. He adjourned the meeting just before 4:00 a.m. and left the legislation pending. Three women, representing a total of nine more minutes of remaining testimony, watched without recourse as Cook rose from his chair and exited through the hearing room’s back door.

The vast majority of those who bore witness at the nearly 11-hour hearing were white, city-dwelling, English-speaking, cisgender women, and it is vital to remember that white, city-dwelling, English-speaking, cisgender women are not the Texans who will be most affected by this legislation.

The Texans who will be most likely to be denied abortions, who would travel over the border to Mexican pharmacies, who would have no choice but to carry unwanted pregnancies to term because they could not travel to one of four remaining Texas cities with an abortion provider, are those who are already unable to take time off work, arrange child care, and drive hundreds of miles to sit in a cold, sterile room—either for an abortion or for three minutes of air time in front of a Capitol committee.

When I remember Thursday night—and I will remember the citizens’ filibuster for years to come, because it fills me with pride—I will particularly remember the testimony of a woman named Lesli Simms, who in the wee hours of the morning chastised Rep. Cook, who just after midnight first tried to silence hundreds of people who had come to the Capitol to speak by ending public testimony. In his opinion, criticisms of HB 60 were getting a little too “repetitive.”

“My presence isn’t repetitive,” said Simms, gesturing to the Texans lined up behind her anxious to get a few words in. “Their presence isn’t repetitive. I’m a Black woman, and I’m coming back.”

As for when to come back, organizers of the citizens’ filibuster are asking Texans to return to the Capitol on Sunday, when the Texas House of Representatives will take up this legislation on the floor. In the meantime, the State Affairs Committee is meeting Friday afternoon in a closed hearing—without public testimony—to officially vote on Thursday night’s proposed legislation. It will almost certainly be recommended favorably to the house at large. [Per the update above, it was.]

We’ll see y’all on Sunday.