It’s been a big week for women in the Texas Legislature, with Democratic representatives such as Jessica Farrar, Mary Gonzales, Donna Howard, and Senfronia Thompson playing a crucial role in the House’s effort to delay passage of SB-5, the abortion omnibus bill, long enough that Fort Worth Senator Wendy Davis would have a chance at killing it via a filibuster (which is ongoing at this moment). But before any of them took the stage, there was Ann Richards—the last Democrat to serve as the state’s governor, and an inspiration to many of the orange-clad activists who logged hours at the Capitol to express their opposition to the bill at hand.
Another inspiration to many of these women is Cecile Richards—Ann’s daughter, and, as the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, no stranger to these issues. When she saw how Texans were standing up for reproductive right, she explained Tuesday, she decided to take a trip back home to show support.
Texas Monthly: Do you think the national Republican party took any lessons from the discussion surrounding abortion and women’s health issues from 2012 election cycle?
Cecile Richards: There were certainly elements within the Republican Party—moderates—who have said, ‘We should get off of these extreme attacks on women.’ Unfortunately, I think that one of the wings of the Republican Party is unrelenting, and that’s been less in the Congress but certainly state legislatures. I think it’s a losing proposition politically, and of course it’s bad for women’s health. Not only is it misguided, but there are women who are suffering as a consequence.
TM: Have you seen any bills similar to SB5 that come bundled with funding? Something where legislators say ‘We’re going to make the restrictions on facilities tighter, but we’re also going to help you fund it.’
Richards: No. And I think that it’s abundantly clear: the people who are proposing these bills—and, certainly, it’s clear some of them don’t even know what they mean—no one who’s proposing these bills has a record of trying to improve access to reproductive healthcare for women. And in Texas, these are the same folks who have been pushing for ending access to Planned Parenthood’s preventive care by ending the women’s health program. And then there’s Governor Perry’s veto over equal pay for women. Taken together, this is a whole series of legislation that’s done nothing but undermine women’s access to health care and women’s rights. What we’re seeing, and Texas is perhaps the most extreme example, is people who can’t overturn Roe. So what they want to do is just simply make it impossible for women to access safe and legal abortion. That’s what this bill is about. Pure and simple.
TM: Why do you think the 2013 edition of this debate is different from the 2011 one? We saw, as you mentioned,the defunding of Planned Parenthood in the state, and the sonogram bill that went through. But we didn’t see this much—
Richards: Outpouring. Look, I do believe we’ve reached a tipping point, and people in Texas are beginning to connect the dots. First you saw the attacks on Planned Parenthood. Then you saw the attacks on women’s health care program, and on birth control and on access to preventive care, and on equal pay. And now this is just, perhaps, the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think folks are realizing that these are folks who will stop at nothing to prevent women from getting access to care, and really want to take women back 50 years. The extraordinary thing to me is being here and seeing not only people who have fought these fights for years, but also so many young people—young women and young men—who can’t imagine that in this century, we’re gonna re-fight these battles. I feel like they have energized a whole new generation of young activists in the state of Texas, and for that, I’m grateful.
TM: Your decision to come down here this week, when was that decision made, and what really pushed you to come?
TM: There was that one very striking image of a little girl looking up at your mother’s portrait…
Richards: Isn’t that amazing? She’s back here again today with her mom, who just came in from Houston at, like, 4:30 this morning. You know, it’s interesting. Of course, I think about Mom a lot. She was a big believer in small-d democracy and grassroots and organizing, and when she campaigned for governor, she said she wanted to open up government and let the people in. I feel like over this last weekend, over a thousand people took her up on that invitation. It’s been wonderful to see people really speaking out.
TM: Do you think Senator Davis could win the governorship in 2014?
Richards: Oh, I have no idea, but Senator Davis is an extraordinary leader—and not only for women, but for men and families across the state of Texas. I’m so proud of her. I’m proud that she’s a Texan. I think it gives people hope and of a different kind of politics, a different view of the world than Governor Perry has represented. If you run for office and you’re so fortunate as to be elected, you represent all the people. Not just the people that voted for you. That’s something I think has been really lost on Rick Perry. My mother knew that she, as governor, was responsible for the entire state of Texas. And I think Rick Perry’s disregard for women, and essentially trying to make his own political point at the expense of women in the state who have very little access to healthcare as it is—it’s not any tradition of the Texas that I grew up in.