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A protester dressed as a handmaiden in Gilead outside the Texas capitol in Austin, Texas. This week thousands are decrying the state's extremist bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and "deputizing" citizens to rat out anyone seeking to help desperate pregnant women. Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Texas GOP To Taliban: Hold My Beer and See Privatized Fascism At Fervent Work

Abby Zimet

With its SCOTUS-approved act of "reproductive terrorism," Texas is ominously, inexorably mutating into Margaret Atwood's dystopian Gilead, with a barbaric touch of Taliban. Its new law effectively banning abortion is what Justice Sotomayor in her blistering dissent called “a breathtaking act of defiance - of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas,” all while simultaneously deputizing religious zealots as pro-life-only-till-they're-born bounty-hunters to enforce it. What could possibly go wrong? For starters, the grievous loss of RBG, the ignoble assembling of a bargain-basement, right-wing Court - may Susan Collins have no rest, ever - and the unsurprising eagerness of said court to condone, as one sage put it, putting reproductive rights "not just on the chopping block, but on the auction block." The law, which bans abortion after only six weeks - when few women even know they're pregnant - will render illegal up to 90% of abortions. Its lack of exceptions even for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest adds a tasty, fascist flavor to it; hence, the bitter, trending hashtags #TexasTaliban, #TexasShariaLaw, #TexasIsGilead. The final horror is the Texas legislature's singularly devious trick of outsourcing enforcement of state-sanctioned misogyny to extremist citizen vigilantes, much like the decades-old "Spies For Life," who'll get paid $10,000 a head to rat out any pregnant women seeking abortions - or, in The Onion's words, "for names of anyone they heard is a slut" - in a Stasi-flavored Ponzi scheme eerily reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Act.
The atrocity in Texas, with its long anti-choice history, represents a perfect awful storm of regressive forces coming together. Of the bigots who drafted and sponsored the bill, 88% were older white men. They in turn serve in a legislature that is wildly disproportionately older white men - about 80%, average age 60 - despite the state's Hispanic population of almost 40%. In its 175-year history, the state has still not elected enough women lawmakers to fill all the seats of one legislative session: To date, 179 women have served versus 5,444 men. And a complicit Supreme Court - with a solid 6-3 anti-choice bent and 78% Catholic in a country that's barely 22% Catholic - was eager to help. By flouting almost 50 years of legal precedent, not to mention the popular will of the country, and by letting pass a bill universally-except-in-Texas deemed flagrantly unconstitutional, many charge the court has, in effect, abandoned the rule of law. In her dissent, Justice Kagan specifically blasted the right-wing majority's abuse of shadow dockets - back-door, middle-of-the-night, no-oral-argument, anonymous rulings favored by the sleazy former guy to advance goals. That decision-making, she charged, "every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend.” Critics argue it also leaves the court door dangerously open for state legislatures to weasel through other extremist laws - separate but equal schools, anyone? - that wouldn't pass muster in the constitutional light of day. At this point, one posits, "The rule of law is whatever the Federalist Society says it is."

Meanwhile, to Gov. Greg Abbott and other pols in a state where a surging COVID has killed over 57,000 people, hospitals are out of ICU beds, and kids and teachers are dying, freedom from big government is whatever they say it is, and never mind the screaming cognitive dissonance. Despite going all-in on the country's most extreme anti-choice abortion bill, Abbott is so rabidly pro-choice about a friggin' piece of cloth on your face and a free shot to keep you healthy - also guns, which now require no permit or license - that for months he's ranted, sued and fought against communist mask or vaccine mandates in schools, cities, businesses or government as an intolerable intrusion into personal freedom, which is sacrosanct because people "do not need the government to tell them what to do," except for, you know, pregnant women. Oh yeah, also voters of color. This week, as mobs of angry anti-vaxxers blind to irony shouted "My body my choice," a school district closed five schools after two teachers died of COVID; doctors blamed Abbott for the 282 Texas kids hospitalized; the state's rolling seven-day average of new cases was 15,400, with 200 deaths a day; and a popular meme making the rounds blasted a state so regressive and hypocritical that a virus has reproductive rights there and a woman doesn't. With a majority of the state's residents opposed to what's happening there - lack of COVID precautions, abortion ban, open carry, voting restrictions - Dana Milbank warns,"Texas has become the bellwether state for what the collapse of the American system of laws will look like."

In the here and now, angry, fearful women, especially those of color, must confront what the ACLU calls the "racial and economic justice catastrophe" that is the new anti-abortion bill. As packed abortion clinics feverishly worked until midnight the day of the bill to try and meet the need - ignoring anti-choice floodlights from the parking lot and telling clients to voice their opinions about "this outrageous law" - advocates looked to the work ahead. Many insisted we must #EndTheFilibuster and #ExpandTheCourt. Others argued we must "stop banging our heads against the Supreme Court's marble walls," move beyond "saving Roe," and keep fighting with a long-term strategy to protect abortion rights within the fight for access to health care. En route, there were astringent jokes: "'The Handmaid's Tale' just got re-shelved at my bookstore from 'dystopian fiction' to 'current events'...Remember 'pro-life' ends at birth....God, you need to do some Sodom & Gomorrah level shit on Texas...You'd think the 'Sue the Uber driver for giving a ride to a pregnant person' law would have some political fallout for Republicans... When will Biden announce an airlift for women and children from Texas?" Most painfully, there were stories from providers, "neither unique nor rare," of women pregnant past six weeks: "Imani, who had a condom break the first time she had sex. Jasmine, whose father beat her unrecognizable. Chelsea, pregnant by an abusive husband she'd escaped from only days before. Ashanti, who got eight opinions in three states, all concluding her conjoined twins would not survive birth. Alexis, who was eleven years old. Kate, who was raped in her group home. Roberta, who lived in her car. Genevieve, whose amnio showed her desperately wanted baby boy would live only minutes, if at all, in pain. Lydia, who just plain wasn't ready." And personal stories of wrenching loss, impossible choices, the "truth that 'pro-life' is the most grotesque misnomer." One woman among many, "I am all rage and grief."

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. 

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