Dozens of college students and reproductive justice activists—some making their first-ever trips to the state capitol building—met with lawmakers in Austin Thursday morning, asking them to support comprehensive sex education, increase access to legal abortion care, and give doctors more leeway to make medically sound decisions about their patients.
The lobby day marked the beginning of a new, multi-year “Trust. Respect. Access.” campaign to advocate for reproductive rights in Texas. Thursday’s events focused in particular on trusting young Texans with evidence-based information about human sexuality and empowering teens who are already parents to be able to make decisions about taking contraception without the consent of their mothers or fathers. Following a morning spent knocking on lawmakers’ doors, the groups amassed on the chilly south steps of the capitol building for a rally.
“A 16-year-old in El Paso knows what is better for her than a white man in Austin does,” said University of Texas at El Paso student Adriano Pérez to the gathered crowd. Pérez emphasized “the power of youth organizing” and the health-care needs not only of Texas women, but of transgender and gender nonconforming Texans.
“The conversation surrounding reproductive rights and access to abortion is often one that is seen as only affecting women,” said Pérez. “But transgender individuals such as myself, and gender nonconforming people, are also affected by the restrictions being placed on reproductive rights and access in Texas.”
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Supporters of Trust. Respect. Access. called the campaign a “long haul” movement meant to address a variety of intrusions into reproductive health-care access and bodily autonomy in Texas over the last several years.
In 2011, Texas lawmakers imposed mandatory ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting periods on Texans seeking abortion care; cut family planning funds by two-thirds; and re-tiered the family planning funding reimbursement system to funnel money away from specialized reproductive health-care providers, causing dozens of health care facilities in Texas to close. In 2013, they passed HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law that, if not blocked in federal court, will close all but eight of Texas’ legal abortion facilities—down from more than 40 before the law passed.
Already in 2015, lawmakers have proposed a handful of new laws that will impose even greater restrictions on the few remaining legal abortion providers in Texas, and are planning to siphon money away from Planned Parenthood health-care centers that provide exams as part of a breast and cervical cancer screening program.
This “long-haul” push is reflected in the tactics of some of the campaign supporters present on Thursday. Fifty-eight-year-old Lisa LeBlanc, who joined college students from West Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and North Texas along with other activists, told Rewire that when her lobby group met with staffers of two anti-choice Republican legislators today, they did not ask for a direct endorsement of a comprehensive sex education bill. Instead, LeBlanc’s organization asked the lawmakers to help the bill get a hearing in a legislative committee.
“We know we’re not gonna change their minds today,” said LeBlanc, but said that asking for future discussions could change minds down the road. “It was really positive.”
At the rally, Dallasite Candice Russell, a writer and activist, shared her two abortion stories: the first, as a low-income 21-year-old living on cheap junk food, and the second, as a 30-year-old career woman who wasn’t ready to be a mother, but who had to fly to California to get the legal abortion care she couldn’t access in Texas after the passage of HB 2.
Russell told the gathered crowd of shivering students, activists, and news reporters that she didn’t know if she ever wants to become a mom, but if or when she does, it will be her own decision: “I can assure you if I do, it will not be because it is legislated.”