Can You Hear Us Now?

Cheryl Newcomb
Director of Development

Last night, I sat with hundreds of my closest friends in the gallery of the Texas Senate, watching an historic moment unfold in Texas. I snagged a seat in the gallery at about 9:00 p.m., after standing for hours in an orange-hued  line that snaked from the gallery doors, two times around the rotunda, and down the stairs. I settled in for the long haul.

Senator Davis was a champion. I got my seat after Senator Davis had already received two strikes – the first for not keeping her comments “germane” to SB5, and the second for receiving assistance from Senator Ellis in donning a back brace after 9 hours of standing and talking. She was well into a lengthy analysis of SB5 and the consequences if it were to become law, when things got real. Very, very real.

On the edge of our seats, we watched breathless as Lt. Governor Dewhurst sustained a third point of order against Sen. Davis for not keeping her remarks “germane.”

I could explain how subjective a term “germane” is, and how broadly it has been applied in other legislative debates, but that is not the point. The point is, the eyes of Texas women were on the proceedings that night, and the eyes of hundreds of thousand s of people all over the world. With that third point of order, the endgame became clear. With that third point of order, we who had been observers became participants.

The gallery erupted in chants of “Let Her Speak!” Senator Watson immediately moved to appeal the Lt. Governor’s ruling. Dewhurst passed the gavel to Chairman Duncan, who immediately lost track of who he had recognized to speak.  We settled down in the gallery while a lengthy consultation with the parliamentarian ensued.

By my phone, it was 11:53 p.m. when it happened; when the people of Texas – those in the gallery, the now thousands that lined the rotunda at all levels and spilled out onto the Capitol steps, the nearly 200,000 following the live stream online, and the multitudes on Facebook and Twitter – decided that enough was enough. We stood and cheered. We cheered for Senator Davis, for her allies on the floor, for all of us watching near and far.

It would be hours before we would know for sure that SB5 had failed. But it was that moment – that moment when our voices rose as one, just before the gallery was closed and we were escorted out singly or in groups – it was in that moment we claimed our victory.

This is what justice sounds like.

So Governor Perry, Lt. Governor Dewhurst, and all the others who tried to ignore the will of the people they are privileged to represent, I ask you this: Can you hear us now?


You Found Your Voices and You Have Been Heard

By Terri Burke
Executive Director

State Sen. Wendy Davis may be doing the heavy lifting – standing and talking for 13 hours without a break and without food or bathroom breaks – but she is merely an extension of you.

As I have traveled the state since taking this position five and half years ago, whether I was speaking to a group of 20, 50 or even 150 people, over and over I’ve heard you say, “I didn’t know there was anyone else in Texas who thinks like me.”

The extremist minority has always been louder. Until now.

I’ve always believed there are more of us than we knew, and this past week you’ve shown that to be true. It started when we released statewide poll results last Wednesday afternoon showing that 80 percent of Texans’ don’t think legislators ought to be making these deeply personal decisions for women, that what registered voters really want is for their Legislators to focus on jobs, the economy and education.

Every time you showed up, every time you spoke up – whether it was the 700 plus women and men who waited more than 12 hours to speak at the House hearing last Thursday, or the 1300 who filled the Capitol on Sunday as the House took up the anti-reproductive freedom measures – you emboldened so many more to speak up.

Whether you said no to the arrogance of the majority or no to those whose actions are driven merely for short-term political game, you emboldened so many more.

You were heard across the nation and around the world – really.

It appears victory is in sight. We know this is only one battle in a much bigger war against women and poor people. We can bask in the win tonight and then we have to start again.

Our poll showed clearly that supporting the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship isn’t a Democratic or liberal position. In fact, 50 percent of the respondents to our poll said they are Republicans or tend to vote Republican, while 37 percent said they are Democrats or tend to vote Democratic.

We must encourage all Texans to join us in this fight; we will start now to educate the public about what their legislature tried to do to them in the name of politics and we will remind them over and over through the 2014 elections and as we prepare for the 84th Legislative Session in 2015.

And we will remember those who stood so tall, so long, so resolute.

Be sure to send your thank-you notes to these Texas heroes:

Rep. Jessica Farrar, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Rep. Donna Howard, Rep. Sarah Davis, Sen. Kirk Watson, Rep. Yvonne Davis, Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Nicole Collier, Rep. Mary Gonzalez, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, Rep. Mary Ann Perez, Rep. Roberto Alonzo, Rep. Alma Allen, and thank Wendy for standing up for Texas women.

At the same time, don’t forget those whose arrogance and complete disregard for the people whose business they were elected to conduct put us through this costly, needless exercise.

On second thought, maybe we should thank Rick Perry and David Dewhurst for helping us find our voices.


Video: 5 Ways TX Politicians are Attacking Women’s Health with SB5

1. SB5 would result in the closure of all but five abortion clinics in TX.
2. Forces doctors to follow a treatment regimen conjured up by politicians.
3. Ignores recommendations of doctors and medical groups across TX and the country.
4. Denies expanded health care for children.
5. Restricts the # of parking spots and location of water fountains in the name of better medical care.

SB5 isn’t about medical safety. It’s about politics and severely limiting women’s options. Learn more and take action at www.aclutx.org/women


They Think We Are Stupid

Terri Burke
Executive Director

The Houston Chronicle on Thursday said there is a “foul odor” about this legislative special session. I agree.

The reasons we agree are many, not the least of which is that the majority of Texans aren’t interested in more restrictions on access to abortion services. We’ve got three polls to prove it, yet Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst think we are stupid, that they know best – or maybe it’s just that they’re pandering to the minority of loud-mouthed right-wing extremists.

There is also the matter of the leadership thinking we are too stupid to notice they changed the rules for this oh-so-very urgent matter to be taken up in the special session.

First, there are the polls. During the regular session we polled in three specific Senate districts, all heavily Latino and less urban, even rural in one case. Among the opinions polled, two questions asked how strongly respondents agreed with these statements:

“Personal, private medical decisions of whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians.” The “Strongly Agree” responses ranged from 70 to 74 percent across the three Senate districts.

“Instead of spending time passing more laws restricting abortion, the state legislature in Texas should be focusing on creating jobs and growing the economy.” Here, the “Strongly Agree” responses ranged from 71 to 75 percent.

Rick Perry and David Dewhurst and several key members of the legislative leadership think they know best and legislators ought to spend more of our tax dollars and more of everyone’s time on subjects Texans don’t care about.

Then, there is the rules change. They think we don’t understand that what they are doing is sort of like a losing high school football team moving the game to another field where there are no referees. The Senate rules of the 83rd regular session require 2/3 of the body – 21 members – to vote to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It is widely agreed that the rule is designed to protect the legislature from spending time on matters that have limited, sometimes only extremist, support.

During the 83rd regular session, only two reproductive freedom bills got out of committee and placed on the Senate Intent Calendar. Neither ever drew 2/3 support to be brought to the floor.

Now, we come to the 1st special session of the 83rd Legislature, and the rules have been changed. They moved the game to a field with no referees: Dewhurst unilaterally, as his office permits, decided the 2/3 rule would not apply. It doesn’t apply to the redistricting issue for which the special session was originally called; it doesn’t apply to the transportation bills being considered; and it doesn’t apply to the four anti-abortion bills (and the omnibus bill the four have been rolled into).

They think we don’t see what they are doing. They claim they are representing the views of most Texans. They are not.

They must think we’re stupid.


Don’t Mess With Texans’ Sex Ed

Rebecca Robertson
Legal and Policy Director

Does Texas really need more pregnant teens? Two shameful new bills are engineered to guarantee that.

HB 1057 by State Representative Jeff Leach and SB 521 by State Sen Ken Paxton both heap budget-breaking burdens on public schools that are trying to give students quality sex education. Under these laws, schools would need written parent consent to offer sexual health education from any provider who is not a district employee.

Even worse: the bills outright forbid health professionals to teach sex ed if the educators have any link to health providers that include abortion services. That means that hundreds of districts that lack their own resources to provide their own sex ed would have to give up or whittle their programs.

And this is in the state with the fourth-highest rate of children giving birth to children.

How can Leach and Paxton justify this?

Easy: their bills exist only to bar Planned Parenthood from teaching students about sex and health. Attacking this effective, established provider of health care is priority #1 for these lawmakers. It’s more important to Leach and Paxton than preventing abortions, protecting young girls, and allowing our communities to decide for themselves how they want to inform children about health and sex.

Paxton and Leach are professional politicians. Planned Parenthood and public schools are professional educators. Leave our student’s health in the hands of those who care most.


Attack Bills Make Women’s Health A Political Weapon

Bill filing time is up at the Legislature, and it’s exposed an arsenal of bills aimed at women’s health. The main weapon: TRAPs, or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers. It’s easy to spot these bills. They’re medically

unnecessary, and they single out abortion providers for intense, politically motivated regulations.

One TRAP bill would burden clinics with so many unneeded regulations that all but three or four clinics would likely close. The bill forces abortion clinics to meet higher, specialized regulatory standards designed for facilities that perform outpatient surgery.  These regulations have little to do with abortion. Instead, they’re meant control surgery variables such as anesthesiologists, laboratories, and radiology procedures. Again, there’s no medical or legal reason to apply these standards to abortion clinics. But if this bill passes, it endangers thousands of Texas women by closing the very facilities that could offer them safe, regulated health services. SB 1198

Sen. Dan Patrick’s proposed restriction on medication-based abortion is one of the worst. Doctors know non-surgical abortions, which use medication in the first weeks of pregnancy, are safe and affordable. Yet Patrick wants to force unneeded repeat appointments, only with one physician, on any Texas woman prescribed a medication-based abortion. There’s no medical reason for this government intervention. Abortions are intensely regulated and among the safest medical procedures performed in the United States. But then, this bill isn’t about protecting women’s health. It’s about promoting Dan Patrick. SB 97

Then there are the politicians who want to meddle directly in families’ most private decisions. A proposed ban would outlaw abortion in almost every case after 20 weeks –  in other words, before many women even know they are pregnant. That means a family with a tragic complication might not know about it in time to consult their doctor, or worse, be goaded into a hasty decision. The 20 week ban recklessly takes the most private health decisions from families and their doctors, handing it directly to Texas politicians. That’s not where our reproductive health decisions belong. SB 25


The Good and the Bad from the 82nd Legislature

Matt Simpson
Policy Strategist

We aren’t going to lie, there was a lot of ugly in the 82nd Legislature, yet we are proud to report that the ACLU of Texas achieved some incredible successes despite the contentious atmosphere of the proceedings.  Many of the bills we supported passed, and we were successful in stopping many bills that would have been bad for Texas.

We worked with business leaders, civil liberties organizations, law enforcement, and religious leaders to stop various anti-immigrant proposals.  These proposals would have encouraged racial profiling and undermined public safety.  Although numerous proposals were offered, and we were backed into a corner when the so-called “Sanctuary Cities” bill was added to the Special Legislative Session, no anti-immigrant bill successfully passed.  Phew!

In addition to holding off the anti-immigrant charge at the Legislature, our other major successes came in the area of decriminalizing school discipline. Current policies and laws that require ticketing students for minor disciplinary infractions at school push youth into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems, interrupting or altogether halting their education.  Futures have been ruined by these policies, and with more youth in jail – and out of a job – these policies certainly have not benefited the economy.   Additionally, criminal justice responses to minors’ misbehavior are more costly and less effective than other methods of encouraging good behavior at school. Here is an overview of our decriminalizing school discipline successes:

  • The Corporal Punishment, Ticketing, and Use of Force Bill (HB 359) addresses three separate school discipline issues.  First, it grants parents the power to determine if their children can be subjected to corporal punishment at school.  Second, it exempts children in sixth grade and under from being charged with three separate Class C misdemeanors for engaging in childish misbehavior on school property.  Third, it ensures that school peace officers report their use of restraints on special education students. 
  • The Truancy Bill (SB 1489) aims to reduce the number of youth and adults sent into juvenile and adult criminal justice systems for truancy.  In 2009 alone there were approximately 120,000 Class C misdemeanor charges filed against Texas students for failure to attend school, a 40 percent increase since 2005.
  • The Record Sealing Bill (HB 961) will better allow youth and young adults to move past childhood mistakes by lowering the age at which individuals may have juvenile records sealed and/or restricted.
  • The Anti-Bullying Bill (HB 1942) requires school district policies to include a procedure for reporting, investigating, and responding to instances of bullying on their campuses.   

Along with the passage of these good school discipline bills, two important criminal justice reforms passed this session. 

  • The Asset Forfeiture Bill (SB 316) reforms the way that asset forfeiture laws can be used.  In the past, asset forfeiture laws were sometimes misused by law enforcement to intimidate individuals (disproportionately African Americans) into relinquishing personal property in an effort to avoid being put in jail. 
  • The Anti-SLAPP Bill (HB 2973) allows for safeguards against frivolous lawsuits targeting individuals with the purpose of quelling the individual’s free speech rights. 

These wins will make a difference in the lives of many Texans, and we are proud to have had such a successful session. But, while we were able to successfully advocate for these bills and stop all of the anti-immigrant proposals, a few bad bills still passed:

  • The Voter ID Bill (SB 14) requires proof of identification at polling places, which creates more roadblocks to voting despite the already very low voter turnout rate in Texas. Voters must already show proof of identification to register to vote. A second show of ID isn’t necessary and there’s no evidence of voter fraud in Texas.
  • The Sonogram Bill (HB 15) intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship and forces a woman to go through an invasive sonogram procedure prior to undergoing an abortion.  
  • The Sexting Bill (SB 407), well-meaning but poorly crafted legislation that creates a new crime for youth that send naked images to friends or classmates, a practice that more than 20 percent of youth engage in nationwide.  There are better non-criminal ways to address this widespread youthful indiscretion without having to place children before a judge.

Between working to undo these unwise new laws and keeping the momentum going on the school discipline successes, we don’t have much time to rest. There is still a lot to do to protect the civil liberties of all Texans.  We assure you we aren’t going anywhere and will keep on fighting for your rights!  To follow the work we do, find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!  And remember, to show your support for the work we do, please vote for us as “Best Activist Organization” in the Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin contest.


Walgreens Responds

November 29th, 2010 1 Comment   Posted in Reproductive freedom

Walgreens corporate headquarters recently responded to our letter saying that it is investigating the matter and will take necessary steps to ensure compliance with its policy that requires pharmacies to sell emergency contraception to men and women 17 years and older, and that a woman need not accompany a man who seeks to purchase the product.

You can still take action. Sign the petition: Tell Walgreens men have a right to buy emergency contraception.


It Takes Two to Tango: Part Deux

November 17th, 2010 1 Comment   Posted in Reproductive freedom

By Lisa Graybill, Legal Director, ACLU of Texas and
Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project

Sign the petition: Tell Walgreens men have a right to buy emergency contraception

Couples who work together to make healthy decisions about contraception should be supported. So why is it that local Walgreens in Texas have repeatedly refused to sell contraception to men, despite corporate headquarters policy and federal guidelines to the contrary?

That is exactly what happened to Adam Drake, who tried to purchase emergency contraception from a Walgreens in Houston. He was shocked when the pharmacy unequivocally denied him the product because he is a man. When he complained to the store manager, she stood by the pharmacist’s decision.

What happened to Mr. Drake is very troubling: no one should face gender discrimination at the pharmacy. But the incident is even more troubling given that we had already asked Walgreens earlier this year to ensure that its stores sell emergency contraception to men after we learned that men in Texas and Mississippi were prohibited from buying the product. Back in June, we received an encouraging response from Walgreens headquarters saying that it distributed a bulletin to all its stores telling them that emergency contraception can be sold to men, and that a male customer who asks to purchase emergency contraception need not be “accompanied by a female, and does not need to identify the individual for whom he is purchasing the product.” Apparently, the Walgreens that Mr. Drake went to did not get that message.

So it is time for Walgreens to do more. This week, we asked Walgreens to train its pharmacists and store managers, and send secret shoppers to its stores(PDF) to ensure that corporate policy is followed. We’ve also asked ACLU of Texas members to sign a petition to tell their local Walgreens that they must sell emergency contraception to men.

Luckily, Mr. Drake was able to purchase emergency contraception from a competitor – a pharmacy that doesn’t discriminate based on gender, and a pharmacy that knows that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved emergency contraception for sale behind the pharmacy counter for men and women ages seventeen and older. Time is of the essence when accessing emergency contraception. Experts stress that emergency contraception is most effective the sooner a woman takes it, and its effectiveness decreases every 12 hours. It is therefore crucial that a customer can get access to emergency contraception as soon as it is needed.

Our hope is that couples will not face gender discrimination at the pharmacy, and will not face unnecessary obstacles in accessing emergency contraception. Let’s hope that Walgreens steps up and turns our hopes into a reality.


It Takes Two to Tango

July 8th, 2010 No Comments   Posted in Reproductive freedom

By Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Lisa Graybill, ACLU of Texas
Harriet Johnson, ACLU of Mississippi

Couples who share responsibility for making healthy decisions about their birth control methods should be supported. That’s why we took action when men who sought to purchase emergency contraception for their female partners were turned away by pharmacists at Walgreens in Texas and Mississippi.

We applaud the men and women who contacted us and stood up for their rights to obtain emergency contraception. We also applaud Walgreens for making explicitly clear that emergency contraception must be sold to men.

We hope Walgreens will be the model for pharmacies across the country. But if you are denied emergency contraception we urge you to stand up for your rights and contact us because we remain concerned that these incidents were not isolated.

In fact, we are investigating another drug store chain whose pharmacy refused to sell emergency contraception to men.

In response to our letters to them detailing these complaints, Walgreens recently issued a bulletin to all of their pharmacies nationwide instructing them that emergency contraception can be sold to “male and female customers age 17 and older.” The bulletin also said that a male customer who asks to purchase emergency contraception need not be “accompanied by a female, and does not need to identify the individual for whom he is purchasing the product.” This policy tracks the FDA’s guidelines for distribution of emergency contraception.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved emergency contraception for sale behind the pharmacy counter for men and women ages 17 and older. Time is of the essence when accessing emergency contraception. Experts stress that emergency contraception is most effective the sooner a woman takes it, and its effectiveness decreases every 12 hours. It is therefore crucial that a customer can get access to emergency contraception as soon as it is needed. A couple who is trying to quickly access emergency contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy should be supported by the pharmacy, not shunned. Luckily, Walgreens’ headquarters agreed.


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