Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Wendy Davis: Modern day Super Woman

At the grand age of 21, to my chagrin, I could hardly be awarded the title of ‘well-travelled’. I have, however, visited the state of Texas - Dallas, to be precise. It was quite literally a ‘flying-visit’, the heavy snowfall in our original destination of New York meaning that flying to the distinctly less appealing South was our only option if we were going to make it into the mighty US of A. After growing up on a diet of Friends, Sex and the City and all things New Yaawk, nothing was going to get in the way of our stay in the Big Apple, so off to Texas we went.

The memory of this brief overnight stay in the Lone Star State is dominated by a visit to the 24 hour American diner, Wendys, my first real-life encounter with the extremes of America (even the McDonalds in Leicester Square doesn’t stay open all night), and a burger and coke of epic proportions. This week however, it’s another Texan Wendy altogether who has gained my considerable, and far more worthy, admiration. 

Wendy Davis, Texan state senator and Democrat, has made history after an incredible effort to filibuster (an excellent word used disappointingly rarely in the UK) the draconian legislation proposed by SB5, the state’s new abortion restrictions. SB5 would mean the introduction of a policy endorsed largely by male politicians, largely affecting women. It would mean a 20 week abortion ban; new TRAP laws requiring abortion clinics to be certified as ‘ambulatory surgery centers’, which would close all but five of the 42 clinics open today, and it would also require clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals and greatly restrict the abortion drug RU-486. 

After a ‘people’s filibuster’ from opponents last week failed to block the bill, Wendy Davis stepped forward to stage her own. The senator planned to speak for 13 hours, without eating, drinking, using the bathroom, or even being able to lean on her podium. Had she wet herself, which I’m inclined to think I might have without a loo break for that long, she would still have been the most dignified person in that room. She was required to stay on-topic, focusing only on the bill and related subjects, like an extreme version of Radio 4’s ‘Just a Minute’. In a room full of people willing her to fail, she did her very best to keep the speech going, speaking quietly but purposefully as she read testimony from the women and doctors who would be affected by the passing of the bill, in order to delay it being passed before the midnight deadline. 

Wearing pink running shoes and a back brace to make this marathon speech more bearable, for me, Davis embodied the positive female, feminist political icon that I don’t feel Britain has. The more I read about her, the more respect I have for her. Seemingly funny and feisty, raised by her mother, she became a single parent herself at the age of 19, but went on to university in Texas, as well as receiving her law degree from Harvard. This isn’t even her first filibuster – in 2011, she filibustered $4 billion in education cuts, which meant Gov. Rick Perry, of course, called a special session to push them through anyway. This makes it even more incredible that she was willing to stand up once again for what she believed in, in the face of considerable opposition and patriarchal sneering. 

It was also encouraging to see a another female politician calling the senators assembled out on the blatant sexism being displayed - Leticia Van De Putte had just returned from her father’s funeral, and repeatedly asked Dewhurst to walk her through his procedural rulings. After being continually ignored, she brought the house down when she asked: “At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?”

After Davis was finally brought to a stop after almost 11 hours of speech making, the democrats assembled stepped in, attempting to run down the clock. De Putte’s comment then prompted the public gallery, which had been filling up throughout the evening, to erupt, with the cheers that lasted for over ten minutes delaying a final vote on the bill to the stroke of midnight, and making its validity highly questionable. 

It’s events like this which encourage me to believe that within my own lifetime, eventually the decisions a woman makes concerning her own body will not be dictated by conservative men. It’s a widely held belief that the South is backwards in its beliefs and policies, full of narrow minded traditionalists. But Wendy Davis is pioneering and brave, and a born and bred Texan. 

While we may sneer at the South, it's worth bearing in mind that there are states across America with similarly unjust restrictions on reproductive rights, and here in Britain, a dearth of female politicians who I can think of with nearly as much respect as I do today of Davis.

Wendy's actions show that even as an individual, you have the power to make a difference. She is also living proof that to be a super hero, you simply have to stand up for what you believe in.
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