Law

What women in Texas are thinking

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Happy Friday! Welcome back to Women Rule. Summer is ending, and fall is fast approaching, so I have two questions: What was the best thing you read this summer? What is your favorite recipe when it gets cooler? And an evergreen question: What do you think of this newsletter? Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy for helping me to put this newsletter together.

Will a political backlash have Texas Republicans regretting the state’s abortion ban in 2022? In an article this week, Politico’s Texas-based reporter Renuka Rayasam throws cold water on that theory. She points to a few reasons why a slew of conservative legislation swept the state’s legislature this year, and why, despite talk of how those laws could be a “galvanizing moment” for opponents, Democrats have their work cut out for them.

I wanted to touch base with Renuka not just about some of the points she raised in her article, but also about what it’s been like in El Paso, Texas, as the ban on abortions after six weeks has taken effect. The takeaway? Despite changing demographics and growing cities, Texas is still very much an anti-abortion state. And thanks to some structural issues, that’s likely not changing any time soon.

Katelyn Fossett: What has the mood been like in Texas? Were people expecting the Supreme Court to block the Texas ban?

Renuka Rayasam: People in Texas are no strangers to conservative legislation, and I think if you live here, you see how the state has chipped away at abortion rights over the years, even without court victories. HB2 [which required abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards and required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals] passed in 2013, and the state went from having 40-some abortion clinics to about half that, even though eventually, in 2016, the Supreme Court overturned that law. There’s been a lot written about how that law, until it got overturned, really made it hard for a lot of abortion clinics to operate in the state.

And I live in El Paso, which has not had abortion in a year and a half because of the pandemic. There’s a Planned Parenthood here. But in March 2020, the abortion provider stopped coming. So I think, you know, this concept of abortion deserts and not having that type of care is very familiar to women in Texas.

I think what is unfamiliar is if you live in a big city — if you live in Austin or Houston or Dallas — that kind of care was always accessible or, you know, you could travel to get that care if you lived in another part of the state. What was so surprising is just how quickly the courts didn’t stop this law from going into effect. It happened all at once and the courts, which you’re used to being the bulwark against some of these laws, didn’t block it in this case.

Fossett: I’d imagine that liberal-leaning women are pretty fired up about this and angry, but I’m curious about the more conservative women in Texas. How are they feeling about it?

Rayasam: So if you look at the polling, among GOP women, more than 70 percent support a six-week abortion ban. And publicly, there are a lot of Texas Republican women voter groups, and I looked at what they were saying, and they are cheering on this abortion law for sure.

But for the article, I talked to a lot of women, prominent GOP women, who support abortion rights but won’t say so publicly. And they were saying that, behind the scenes and more quietly, a lot of people were really upset about what happened this week. But there’s just no space for them in their party to speak up. There are a couple who will speak up.

But, you know, they saw what happened to State Rep. Sarah Davis, who I profiled last year. She was a Republican — a pretty conservative woman who supported abortion rights and was conservative on a number of other issues. But she … got primaried by her own party. She got vilified by her own party. She always had Planned Parenthood’s endorsement, but eventually she lost to a Democrat. And so I think people saw that and they thought, Well, if you’re a GOP woman, you’re not going to gain points in your own party for supporting abortion rights. You’re not going to get points from the left for supporting abortion rights. So you just don’t say anything.

(Editor’s note: This happens on both sides as abortion has become an increasingly partisan isssue. A few years ago, Jennifer Haberkorn wrote for POLITICO Magazine about how difficult it is to be an openly anti-abortion member of the Democratic Party.)

Fossett: One of the things you mention in your piece — one of the challenges that Democrats will have if they want to respond to this raft of conservative legislation such as the abortion ban — is the lack of a deep Democratic bench in Texas. Why is that bench lacking?

Rayasam: There are a lot of reasons why. I remember I have a friend who is a state representative who was elected in 2004, and he was one of these young guys who represented a district near Austin. And there was a whole crop of these people 20 years ago, who were going to be the face of the Democratic resistance, and then they all just left. All the Democrats left politics. And when I talk to them about it, they’re like, Well, it’s just too hard to win as a Democrat in the state.

And they had examples like Wendy Davis [who ran for governor in 2014 but didn’t come close to defeating Governor Greg Abbott]. And she was a flawed candidate in a lot of ways, but Republicans control all the levers of power. They control how elections are run. They control how districts are drawn. And even if redistricting doesn’t affect statewide candidates, you can’t just materialize a Senate candidate or gubernatorial candidate out of thin air. That has to come from a congressional district; it has to come from a state House or state Senate district. And Republicans have made it so hard for Democrats to win at the local level that that has really destroyed, I think, the bench in a lot of ways. And then Republicans have a lot more money and a lot more manpower and strategy. And they’re so much more coordinated and fired-up than Democrats, and I don’t know why that is.

I think the state is more purple than the election results show. It is definitely still a conservative state. That’s the other thing here. This is not like some sleeping Democratic giant. This is a conservative state. But there are a lot more Democrats here than I think get represented electorally and honestly, I have not been able to answer that question of why that is. Maybe it’s because when the deck is stacked against you, it’s an uphill climb, because it becomes harder to recruit people who have lives and careers to get into politics.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS …

POLITICO EVENT — The 2020 killing of 20-year-old Army soldier Vanessa Guillen, who had told family she was being sexually harassed by several soldiers prior to her disappearance…

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