JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
In Texas yesterday, the State House passed a measure that if approved would make Texas one of the places most difficult to get an abortion. Hundreds protested and five were arrested in the culmination of weeks of protest against this measure.
Now joining us to talk more about the latest news from Texas is Rocío Villalobos. She works at the University of Texas at Austin’s Multicultural Engagement Center. She’s–also volunteers and organizes with local immigrant rights and women’s rights groups in the Austin area.
Thank you so much for joining us.
ROCÍO VILLALOBOS, ORGANIZER: Thank you for having me again.
NOOR: Can you talk about the latest news and developments from Austin?
VILLALOBOS: Sure. As you mentioned, we had five people who were arrested yesterday during the hearing. And they were basically protesting and causing a disruption in the gallery because they wanted to make a point that the voices of women, particularly those who will be most impacted by this bill, aren’t being heard, and they felt it was necessary to stand up and to make sure that the voices are a part of the conversation. And in this case, you know, it was in a forced matter, because otherwise people aren’t being heard.
Earlier today we also actually sat in during the Senate Health and Human Services Commission and caused a slight disruption after they were considering some amendments but ultimately voted to move the bill forward, where it will be discussed on the Senate floor tomorrow. So during these past few days and the past few weeks it’s been a really big push and a very urgent matter to try and keep working and keep organizing and keep galvanizing the public so that people are out there and present at the capital.
NOOR: And can you explain what exactly in this bill has motivated thousands of people to descend on the State House to have their voices heard?
VILLALOBOS: Sure. Some of the measures in the bill would require clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards in order to remain open, which means that all but five of the clinics in the state would have to close. So we’re seeing a shift from 42 clinics that are currently open to only five. And many of the areas in which these clinics are located already serve a great number of women. So if we’re only left with five clinics, it means that hundreds, thousands of women would have to travel really long distances in order to receive care at these centers.
I think another thing that’s important to point out is that these centers and the clinics not only offer abortion services, but they also offer other well women services such as preventative care concerning cancer, concerning diabetes, things like STD testing, and other types of services that are the only places where low-income women can get this type of care. So we’re seeing that this bill would disproportionately affect poor and working-class women, women living in rural areas and border areas, women of color in particular.
And we’re seeing also that there will be an impact in the immigrant community. Many of the immigrants living along the border or in other rural areas are also from poor economic backgrounds, so they rely on these clinics for the services that they require.
Part of the bill would also limit the type of pills that are able to be dispensed for women who are seeking abortions. So we’re seeing that in general it’s really a matter that goes far beyond just receiving abortions. It’s about being able to provide access to services that will allow women to take care of themselves and to not be in risk of different diseases.
NOOR: So we see these types of measures being passed across the country or proposed across the country. In North Carolina, they recently proposed a bill that would also restrict abortions. Can you talk about this in a national context, as well as the influence of the Koch brothers and their lobbying group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and what their connection is?
VILLALOBOS: Sure. So I think it’s definitely part of a larger national trend. Since the 2010 elections, an increasing number of Republicans have been taking greater positions of power within the legislature, and this has paved the way for these types of bills and this type of legislation to gain footing. So we’re seeing these types of bills all over the country. In places like North Dakota and Mississippi right now, they’re fighting to keep the last abortion clinics open. In places like Wisconsin and Ohio, they’re trying to push back against invasive ultrasounds.
So this is all connected. It’s all about limiting people and women’s access to different types of medical care while the states are also facing budget cuts to the funding that they need in order to continue providing care for people in general.
I think it’s definitely important to note that Laubenberg, who is the Texas chair of ALEC, she has been, you know, one of the strongest supporters of this legislation. She introduced the bill. And it’s–you know, you’re seeing these connections in part of a larger conservative agenda that’s creeping across the country.
NOOR: So you certainly face an uphill battle trying to block these measures in Texas. Can you talk about the next steps for the movement, as well as any long-term plans the movement is putting together in light of the massive support you’ve received in Texas and across the country?
VILLALOBOS: Well, it’s been several different groups that have been working on pushing back against these attacks, which makes it a challenge when you’re working on something that is on such a large scale and things that are moving so quickly.
In the short term, we are looking at possible actions and a plan for tomorrow. Again, the bill is going to be read on the Senate floor, and it may go up for a vote again tomorrow or Saturday. So there are kind of very immediate concrete plans for the next few days that include mobilizing a lot of people to come out to the capital again and show their support and try to do what we can to prevent this type of legislation.
But in the long term, we basically have to wait and see what unfolds during these next few days, focus on organizing and strategy around those next couple of days, and then next week begin thinking about things in the long term, what this means for a local movement here in Austin, but then also just statewide and possible connections to other portions of the nation. I think it’s important to be in communication and to try and learn from each other’s struggles and strategies in order to be stronger and to be more united.
NOOR: And Rick Perry recently announced he is not going to seek reelection as Texas governor. Can you give me your reaction to that? He’s been a outspoken supporter of these measures.
VILLALOBOS: I think that there are a lot of Texans who are happy to hear that he’s not seeking reelection. We don’t know, you know, what will happen next, but I know that there is at least a huge sigh of relief that he is no longer planning to run for governor.
NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us. And we’ll certainly keep following this story.
VILLALOBOS: Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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