It felt so empowering to have my daughter beside me throughout the entire day... like it's all come full circle. I'm fighting for Grace AND Faye now. She must have felt the intensity of the day because she slept through most of it. :)
Up until this event, most of my advocacy work has been focused on educating the public through various media outlets. I have never spoken directly to legislators, and let me tell you, it's a completely different ball game. Mad props to the warriors who do this work for a living.
As most of you know by now, I am an extremely passionate person. I have no problem challenging people when I strongly believe in something, and let's just say I more than strongly believe in a woman's right to choose. So when I found myself face-to-face with state legislators who disagree with my beliefs, I could actually feel the blood in my veins begin to boil. It was extremely difficult to keep my composure when a white, middle-aged bald man looked at me and said "well, women use abortion as a form of birth control." I mean, how could I not want to reach across the table and strangle the guy?
After a long morning of meeting with legislators, the Planned Parenthood team asked if I would be willing to sit in on the House Health Subcommittee meeting and possibly testify against bill SB 1180/HB 1189. (This bill would change the definition of viability to 20 weeks, require women to have 2 physicians certify the need for the abortion, and further narrow the definition of "medical emergency") The committee was going to review and vote on the bill, and if passed, would then proceed to the House & Senate for a vote. I was told that there were a lot of items on the agenda and it was unlikely that the committee would open the floor up for testimonials. I was basically there on standby just in case.
Well, they opened it up for testimonials.
There are 19 people on the House Health Committee that were voting on this particular bill, 3 of which were women. The entire setting felt really intimidating. The first time I'd even heard a testimonial was just minutes before mine on an unrelated bill. And after I heard theirs, I panicked that mine wasn't good enough. Nobody really gave me much direction on what testifying was all about, so I had to go with what I had.
I took a second to purposefully look all the men in the eye before I began, and I tried to speak a bit more conversationally instead of speech-like, as I typically do with the media. Once I was finished sharing my story, the committee thanked me and I returned to my seat. It felt very awkward to just stand up and walk back to my seat after sharing such a personal story. I received no feedback and couldn't read the room. Did I sound okay? Did anyone on the committee have a reaction? What were people thinking?
Almost immediately after I sat down, Representative Matthew Hill, the man proposing this ridiculous bill, announced into his microphone: "I just want to clarify, this bill wouldn't even apply to her."
I had just poured my heart out about my daughter's death to a room full of strangers and all this man could think about was getting his stupid bill passed. It was so belittling and completely untrue. Of course this bill would directly affect women like me. It's shortening the window of legal abortion and narrowing the definition of medical emergency. I wanted to stand up and scream "Actually it does, asshole!" but I no longer had the floor. I was just another spectator in the crowd listening to a group of politicians discuss additional restrictions we mothers would have to face.
Following Hill's statement, Representative John Ray Clemmons pushed back pointing out how the bill is unconstitutional and that it's sole purpose is to make abortion less accessible for those who need it. For a brief moment, I felt like there was a voice of reason in the room. It had been a long day banging my head against a wall, so it was so nice to hear someone fighting for me for once. (For anyone in District 55 / Davidson County, please, contact him and thank him for his support on this bill.) But sadly, he was the ONLY voice of reason in the room. The committee voted, and 17 of the 19 members voted to pass the bill. It was extremely disheartening and made me realize how red my state really is.
The entire day was a very eye-opening experience and I certainly learned a lot. For one, I realized how uneducated our legislators truly are on the topic of abortion. I knew going in that there were a ton of misconceptions out there, but it is absolutely insane to me that the people creating and voting for these bills don't know the difference between fact and scare-tactics. It's also shocking to me that the vast majority of our legislators are middle-aged men. MEN! Men are voting for bills that directly impact my body as a woman.
Most importantly, I feel like I got a better understanding of how bills are reviewed, evaluated and passed. Like I said, I had no idea what testifying entailed and now I know what to expect. I think next time I will become more educated on the specific bill in advance and write my speech with the restrictions they're proposing in mind.
To be honest, I didn't enjoy this type of advocacy work. It's emotionally draining and flat-out hard. But, it's probably the most important work I've done to date. These are the people who are creating and passing laws that directly affect women like me, and it's important to get in there and try to enact change. I guess the saying is true...if it were easy, everyone would do it.
NPR article on my testimony can be found here.
Here's an overview of the current Tennessee bills directly affecting a woman's right to choose:
SB 1180/HB 1189: An Open-Ended Ban (20 week) sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley & Representative Matthew Hill
- Change the definition of "viability" of a fetus to 20 weeks (versus 23).
- This change is in contradiction to current medical understanding.
- Redefines a "medical emergency" more narrowly than current law.
- This causes further limitations for a women and does not protect women who's baby is sick and will die in utero, shortly after, or will live a life disabled or in pain.
- Requires at least 2 physicians to certify that an abortion is needed based on these new definitions.
- This would force women to find a second physician, wait for an available appointment and then travel to the office, threatening time (on an extremely time sensitive issue) and costs for women.
SB 244/HB 108: A 6 week ban sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers and Representative James Van Huss
- Bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically at the 6 week mark
- Majority of women don't even know they are pregnant yet at this point
**This bill was tabled until 2018 on Wednesday - A win!!
SB 766/HB 101: A 20 week abortion ban sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Terri Weaver
- Bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy
- 99% of abortions occur before 21 weeks of pregnancy, and those needed later are due to the health of the mother or baby
Tennesseans -- Please reach out to your legislators to let them know you oppose these bills! You can find your legislators here: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/