photo courtesy of TaneneAllison‘s Twitter
If I ever choose to have a family of my own, when I’m ready, on my own terms, I will tell them about the night I testified against HB16 and HB60.
If you follow me on Instagram or especially Twitter, then you know how I spent my afternoon, evening, an wee hours of the morning: using my right and my voice to fight against harmful bills proposed in Texas that would drastically limit access to healthcare for women, specially abortions. I’ll keep the legalease short, but the bills aim to eliminate all but 5 clinics providing abortion services in the state of Texas. 5. In the whole state.
I realize this is an extremely controversial topic and I may turn away some of my more conservative readers, but I’m a feminist first an foremost and sisterhood is what I believe in. Living in Austin, I have access to a lot of services and support that women across the state don’t. Sisterhood means never leaving a sister behind. Not a rural sister, an impoverished sister, a sister experiencing abuse, or any sister who no longer wants to be pregnant for any reason. On Thursday at 4:30pm, I gathered with over 700 women and men who told their stories and argued against bills that would devastate their Texan sisters.
During the 12 hours I was in the hearing, I witnessed firsthand so many things I thought we left in the 1950s. Not only were we fighting for the same rights our grandmothers fought for, but we were shut down and had to fight back in the ways you read about in history books. At my 8.5 hour mark, the chairman said our testimonies were repetitive. He said we needed to find the most compelling of our stories to put forward. He was prematurely ending the hearing. We hissed and pleaded. We prepared to stage a sit in. We chanted Let Her Speak!
But we’re not in the 1950’s. Permanently attached to our phones, we tweeted. On the same night as Kimye’s baby name was announced and the NBA final, we trended #HB60 worldwide. We were our own press. We quoted lines from the most heart-wrenching, inspiring, fury-laden, pleading testimonies those walls have ever heard.
After 10 hours of waiting, I was able to testify. Over the ten hours, my entire being had filled with so much rage. The bills’ author laughed as women told their horrifying stories of back-alley abortions, of mental health disorders that made pregnancy positively dangerous, of daughters of abortionists who watch their parents go in to work every day to save women’s lives. I was angry in a way I have never felt in my life. When I got up to speak, I heard my voice loud and clear. “My name is Nicole Seligman and I am a constituent of Representative Elliott Naishtat. Like my Representative, I am against this bill.” I spoke about my work on the dating abuse helpline. About the necessity for ample access to healthcare facilities. About sexual and financial abuse so many of our women are faced with. About trusting women to be the experts on their situation.
And then I lost it. All of the breath was taken from my body and I could barely speak through the tears. “It is irresponsible of Texas lawmakers to make these women’s lives even harder, scarier, and less safe…You have a responsibility to Texas women to support them, protect them, and give them the right to choose.” I looked each of the representatives before me dead in the eye. “We have gained national and global attention tonight. Do we have your attention?”
I am writing this at three-forty in the morning, sitting in the John H. Reagan building of the Capitol complex, surrounded by the most incredible people I have had the honor to encounter. I am still trying to process everything that has gone down over the last 12 hours. This is about trusting women–all women–to make the personal, private, often desperate decisions they are entirely capable of making. This is about providing safe and supportive options to women who will find another way if the state denies them.
Tonight was the single most important night of my life thus far. Maybe that sounds extreme or exaggerated to you. I know how lucky I was to have been able to tell the stories of my hundreds of callers, and of the majority of people who were silenced last night by a chairman who thought we were repetitive and uncompelling.
Our stories are repetitive because so many of us have had to fight against the same threatening, mistrusting, and silencing legal system. Every word we spoke was compelling if you stopped and listened.
I am so immensely proud of everyone who came together last night. I stood with sisters from St. Edward’s University, a catholic university who wouldn’t allow us to speak about abortion on campus and who once literally took our vaginas away (that’s another story!). I stood with fellow Austin blogger Camille of Pretty and Punk in the line to testify after they tried to shut us down. I stood with my sisters from the dating abuse helpline who told remarkable stories of how this bill could damage all communities of women across Texas. I shared knowing glances and hand squeezes with strangers in solidarity. Democrats from across the nation sent in pizzas. Locals brought us fresh cookies and coffee. The #HB60 Twitter feed was filled with supporters from all over the world. As one of my coworkers put it, surreal is really the only word to accurately describe this experience.
I’m off to bed now so I can keep fighting in whatever way possible tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this later, but I wanted to write it while it was still happening to me.