Sunday, April 2, 2017

RE-TESTIFYING


On Tuesday I testified again for Tennessee's SB 1180.  My first time testifying against this bill was with the House Health Subcommittee, and this time was with the full Health Committee. I felt really anxious going into this testimony because the last time I testified, Representative Hill dismissed me immediately after I shared my story stating that "for the record, this bill doesn't even apply to her."

So, needless to say I was pretty fired up as I prepared my do-over testimony. I took some time to read through the bill and attempted to come up with some rebuttals based on my personal experiences.  The first testimony I wrote was a bit aggressive and directly called out Representative Hill for dismissing me last time, but the lobbyist I was working with suggested I omit it because the legislators don't respond well to combative language. (Disappointing, because I really wanted to stick it to em.) She suggested I take more of a sweet, relatable approach. So, I had to tone back my Chicago sass and make my case through fact and story telling only.

The morning of my testimony was typical mayhem. Joe refused pretty much every breakfast option I suggested and demanded not to be rushed. I swear, every time I need to be somewhere he somehow knows it. He wouldn't let me dress him because he HAD to do it himself. Ah, the struggles of motherhood. We finally got out the door and into the car and Joe randomly announced -- Mommy, I'm Spiderman and you're Wonder Woman! All of my frustration was gone with one innocent statement from a 3 year old. It was probably the best compliment I could have gotten to start my day. You're damn right I'm Wonder Woman, buddy.

When I arrived at Legislative Plaza, there was a line out the door waiting to get through security. There were about 50+ people wearing name tags, and as soon as I got close enough, I saw that they were all from Tennessee's Right to Life. Right To Life is an extreme pro-life group here in Tennessee that "defends the right to life of the unborn." What are the odds. My stomach dropped and I felt instantly nauseous surrounded by the enemy.

I had Faye with me because well, I'm still on maternity leave and she's still feeding every 3 hours. So I don't really have a choice but to drag her around to these events. Not sure if that makes me a terrible mother or an incredibly badass one, but it is what it is. I made my way into line and the minute the Right to Lifers saw her, they swarmed my stroller "ooing" & "ahhing" over how cute she was. It was just too perfect of an opportunity to not use to my advantage. We talked for about 15 minutes as we stood in line. I went on and on about how much of a blessing she is to our family and how much I love being her mother (which of course is true, but I typically wouldn't gush about that to complete strangers). I smiled as I learned all about their grandchildren, their ages, names and how advanced they were in pretty much everything, and I thanked them when they complimented how nice I looked after just having a baby. The irony of the whole situation had me roaring with laugher inside.

I finally got through security and met up with the folks from Healthy & Free Tennessee and Planned Parenthood. The room was already packed, and I recognized a lot of my Right to Life "friends" sitting in the crowd.

I don't get too nervous speaking in front of people anymore. I have to present quite a bit for my job, and I've done enough advocacy work now to know I can emotionally get through my story. And this time especially, I didn't have the nerves of having to deliver a sub-par testimony. I felt fairly confident that I was putting my best foot forward.

Shortly after the meeting started, the Chairman called my name to take the stand. As I stood up, I could almost hear the jaws drop from all the Right to Life people sitting behind me. It was perfection. I wanted so badly to address them all. I wanted to explain to them that motherhood and abortion are not mutually exclusive things. That women who abort their babies later in pregnancy are not malicious murderers who just woke up one day 20 weeks pregnant and decided they didn't want to be. That we are good, loving mothers who aren't so different from them. Anyway, I delivered my testimony, and if you watch the video of it, you can see their faces and reactions behind me.

When I was finished, Representative John Ray Clemmons (Democrat from Davidson County) asked me some questions to help prove his points. I wasn't expecting a q&a session and I wish I was more prepared. I knew he was trying to use my answers as ammo to fight the bill, but his first question felt long-winded and a little confusing. I was trying to read his mind of what he wanted me to answer, but I was too overwhelmed, emotional and nervous. I did the best I could, but it's so hard to watch back on video because I have a million better answers than the ones I gave.

I will say, the hardest part about testifying wasn't the testimony itself or even the q&a session afterward, it was having to listen to the legislators argue about it after I returned to my seat. After I no longer could respond. I had rebuttals about pretty much everything and I got so angry with myself that I didn't include this or that in my testimony to shut them down. Representative Matthew Hill said at one point that the goal of this bill is to stop elective abortions from happening after 20 weeks. And if you watch the video, you will hear all the Right to Life members in the room cheering after that statement. But here's the thing people -- it's already illegal!

Our current Tennessee law makes abortion illegal after the 1st trimester of pregnancy and only allows them until viability (not defined, but medically speaking is 24 weeks) in extreme cases to protect the life or health of the mother. You cannot abort a healthy baby for no reason in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy in this state, and I'm pretty sure you can't in any other state for that matter, either. And even when you have a solid case (like me), it can still be denied. But now that Representative Hill seeded that statement, people think they do. And all the Right to Life people are applauding like he is saving all these babies from "murder". It's all scare tactics and it's disgusting. I guarantee that the majority of the Right to Life members do not know the current laws in this state. (Because if they did, they wouldn't be applauding such a false statement.)

If you ask me, the goal of this bill is to restrict women's rights. Let's just call it what it is, people. Requiring a 2nd doctor's approval (thus adding longer wait times and more financial stress for women), changing viability to 20 weeks (even though there is no medical evidence that a baby can survive outside the womb before 24 weeks), and further narrowing the definition of medical emergency (restricting access even further for those in medically needed situations), does not do anything to help protect 2nd trimester abortions from electively happening when it's already illegal. And like I said in my testimony, you need medical documentation to prove that you and/or your baby are sick and at risk to have one.

The legislators voted and it again passed by a landslide. The only people opposed were the few Democrats on the committee. The second it passed, I just started crying. It was embarrassing but I felt so angry and defeated. I thought I made solid points of why this bill is outrageous. I thought the Democrats in the room made great arguments, too. I thought Representative Hill's answers were unsupported and lacked validity. I thought the committee was actually listening and emotionally connecting to my story. And yet, they all put their heads down to avoid eye contact and voted to pass it.

Afterword, I got to talking to some people and learned that they were likely going to pass it regardless of my testimony and the discussion to follow. I was told that Republicans do not want to go on record for voting against an abortion bill because their main goal is to get re-elected next term. Even if they think this bill should not pass (which many Republicans stated during side discussions prior to Tuesday's meeting), they are going to pass it anyway.

I left feeling completely hopeless. These restrictive bills are going to continue to get passed because of America's 2 party system. Only the most extreme views of both parties ever get represented. Not all Republicans are personally pro-life. Not all Democrats are personally pro-choice. But we are all forced to pick a party and pick a side. Shouldn't politicians be required to pass bills based on human decency to protect the safety and health of the people? If many of the Republicans in the room felt deeply about my story (which I know they did, because some of them thanked me afterward for my bravery) and they truly believe this bill is garbage yet STILL voted to pass it, what more can I do? What more can we do?

I don't know y'all... I'm starting to lose hope. But I guess I'll continue to fight because I have to do something.

You can watch the full House Health Committee Meeting here.

You can read media coverage from the Tennessean here.