Holli Latiolais, a 26-year-old teacher, was appalled when she heard the news that the Texas Legislature was considering a bill restricting access to abortions. She didn't want to sit on the sidelines and watch.
“I knew that I had to do something about it,” she said.
So, she decided to organize her first protest in downtown Dallas. It came together organically through a group of women Latiolais had connected with on Facebook during the pandemic.
Once she created the event, a handful of local political groups reached out to sign on as cosponsors for the rally, including Our Revolution North Texas, Collin County Young Democrats and the Dallas chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
The rally drew more than 200 people on a balmy Thursday evening, just days ahead of a separate reproductive rights rally in Austin. Most of the attendees were young women, some of them still in high school.
Many demonstrators held signs taking aim at Gov. Greg Abbott. “The only cunt that should be regulated is Greg Abbott,” one read. “Vote him out, vote him out,” the crowd chanted
A week earlier, Abbott had signed legislation that bans all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively banning procedures as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
"Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion," Abbott said ahead of signing the bill.
“Most people with a uterus might not know that they’re pregnant at that point,” said Suzie Miller, an organizer with the Collin County Young Democrats.
Most individuals learn they're pregnant between five and a half to six weeks after conception. In effect, the new law would prevent many women in Texas from getting their procedure before they even know they’re pregnant.
Dubbed by Republican lawmakers the “heartbeat bill,” the legislation also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers if they believe they’ve broken the law, a provision that could cause many providers to shut their doors.
This legislative session, Texas state lawmakers, including Republicans and a few Democrats, introduced a slate of anti-abortion bills in the Legislature.
Two days before the rally, the Texas Senate passed a separate bill that would ban abortion in the state entirely if the U.S Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Abbott appears likely to sign the bill.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a challenge to a Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which advocates fear could allow a conservative majority on the court to roll back the rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.
The placards at Thursday’s protest may have been funny, but the rally was thick with anger. Several speakers delivered angry and impassioned speeches about the crackdown on abortion rights. Democratic organizers like Miller took the opportunity to channel that wrath into political power by registering new voters at the event.
Marissa Rodriguez, an organizer with the Party of Socialism and Liberation, hoped to spread their message and bring new members into the fold. “Hopefully we were able to spread socialist ideals to people … and inspire people to continue to organize,” Rodriguez said.
The legislation is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1. Unless the legislation is overturned in court, abortion rights advocates have little recourse at the state level until the next legislative session in 2023.
In the meantime, local advocates plan to organize around related issues that they can affect at the local and county level, like adequate sex education.
“Most of our high schools aren’t even providing basic sex education,” Miller said. “So, we are building a lot more of our high school chapters and making sure people have a place to start having these discussions and understanding why voting locally is so important."
Access to health care programs is also a key issue. “It’s going to be essential that we find ways to bridge gaps between healthcare providers that are trying to spread the word about services that are still legal and available,” Rodriguez added. “That might mean going door to door in certain neighborhoods and making sure people understand.
While some like Rodriguez plan to focus on direct outreach, others like Miller hope to influence city council and county commissioner races with the aim of protecting and expanding access to reproductive health resources.
“That’s where purse strings are to actually extend things such as mental health programs or women's reproductive rights programs and helping our health care providers,” Miller said.
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