“Disparity in numbers at opposing abortion rallies”
By Rachel Goodman
While a mass of anti-abortion marchers descended on the Capitol in late January, on the opposite side of the building, where a pro-abortion rights demonstration was taking place, the scene looked quite different.
Texas Project Counter, a reproductive rights group, organized the Sunday, Jan. 24 rally on the north side of the building. The organization expected 1,200 attendees to join them; only about 200 turned out.
Back on the south side, a crowd of about 1,500 packed tightly together to hear newly elected Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Texas first lady Cecilia Abbott, among others, raise their voices in support of tough abortion restrictions in the state.
Despite the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe V. Wade, which helped to secure access to reproductive health services, the abortion debate rages on 42 years later. Much of the debate in Texas surrounds recent legislative efforts to negate the progress brought by Roe. Conservative-backed House Bill 2, which went into effect in October 2013, has forced 24 of 41 abortion clinics in Texas to shut their doors.
An attempt to add another provision to HB 2 was brought before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in early January. The provision would cause any remaining clinic that doesn’t meet expensive hospital-level operating standards to shut down. If the court rules for Texas, the number of clinics will likely dwindle to seven.
Commendation and consternation regarding these recent developments hung heavy in the air at the opposing rallies at the Capitol. On the north side of the building, orange-clad abortion rights activists began to arrive around 1 p.m. for the Texas Reproductive Rights Rally. The tangerine hue has become synonymous with this movement in Austin. Meanwhile, anti-abortion advocates marched up Congress Ave. to the south steps for the Texas Rally for Life.
While chants reverberated on both sides, due to the small turnout those of pro-abortion rights advocates did not ricochet quite as loudly off the Capitol walls.
Anti-abortion supporters remained quite only for a short time as Texas’ new first lady began to speak from the podium.
“Because of you, Texas leads the nation in defending those who do not have a voice,” Abbott told the crowd.
Millennials, easily identified by large rectangular blue signs reading “MY GENERATION WILL END ABORTION,” gray-haired men and mothers holding tightly to children roared with applause.
Among these was University of Texas communication sciences and disorders senior, Elizabeth McCord.
McCord, a member of the Texas Students for Life group and Catholic Longhorns for Life through the University Catholic Center, said she attended the event with a number of peers from both organizations.
“It’s important to show that there are people from my generation who believe in this and want to fight for this,” the 22-year-old Houston native said. “It’s not just older men and women.”
Millennial support for the opposing side of the debate showed up in droves during the now famous Wendy Davis filibuster in June 2013. However, this demographic, defined as those ages 18-29, was not as evident on this day in January.
Texas State student Katie Orr stood out among the crowd with a burnt-orange shirt emblazoned with the words “RICK PERRY SUCKS.”
The 23-year-old chanted passionately along with others: “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” and “My body, my choice.”
Orr, who is a member of the student group Feminists United, made the 31-mile drive from her campus with a friend. Although the Austin native is optimistic about the future of pro-abortion rights advocacy from her generation, she said she was disappointed by the lack of young people at the rally.
However, Heather Busby, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, says turnout isn’t necessarily indicative of the level of support and there is data to back her up.
In 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization, surveyed 3,000 Americans about their stance on abortion. The results found that 60 percent of millennials believe abortion should be legal in all or most states.
If that’s the case, why was this demographic sparse on the pro-abortion rights side of the rally?
Roxanne Meraji, a 20-year-old UT government and philosophy major, did not attend the rally but considers herself pro-abortion rights. She says that the recent legislative actions against abortion clinics have made being an active advocate tough.
“A lot of the time, people I talk to say ‘Texas is really conservative so why even bother?’” the Eagle Pass, Texas native said. “That’s how it is with a lot of things in Texas, not just with abortions.”
Groups like Fund Texas Choice, a non-profit funding abortion travel for low-income people, are witnessing this defeated mentality among young supporters.
“I do see burnout,” Natalie St. Clair, Operations Manager for Fund Texas Choice, said in a phone interview. “It is extremely difficult to stay abreast of the constant shifting back-and-forth of laws, forget trying to protest them.”
Pro-abortion rights speakers were well aware of this issue at the Jan. 24 rally, but tried to remind attendees that there are still women who need their support.
As she spoke to the crowd, Democratic state Rep. Jessica Farrar attempted to uplift the scant number of supporters.
“Just stay engaged,” the congresswoman said. “We need their voices to be heard.”