Friday, 28 June 2013

Why Wendy Davis' abortion filibuster was wrong. (AKA: How to lose all your friends in a single blog post)

Well, I'm about to become extremely unpopular.

Metaphor for what I'm doing, right now. Why am I writing this again?
Firstly, some context is required. On Monday, a bill known as SB5 was voted on in the Texas Senate; it received an overwhelming majority of support. The bill would have implemented sweeping changes to abortion laws within the State of Texas, meaning that abortion would be outlawed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and also applying vast new restrictions on how abortion clinics can get a licence. The bill, by the proposer's own admission, would have meant the substantial number of abortion clinics in Texas would have to close, meaning that many women would not be able to gain access to a clinic for abortions.

So, all in all, it was a pretty shitty bill.

Enter Democrat Texas Senator Wendy Davis, hero of the hour! Through a process known as filibustering, in which a Senator talks about a bill continuously to delay and prevent a vote from happening, Senator Davis successfully talked for 13 hours straight - without drinking, eating, sitting down or leaning, and staying on the topic of the bill for the entire time - and thus successfully preventing SB5 from passing, by going over the deadline for a vote to occur.

This filibuster has kind of exploded in the news;  numerous mainstream media sites such as the Rolling StoneThe Guardian, and manymany others jumped at the news story, many praising it as a victory for women's right and vaulting Senator Davis from an unknown politician to hero of the Feminist Left in Texas.

So, Hurray, right? Not so fast.

Yes, SB5 was a draconian bill that would have prevented the kind of legal, healthy access to abortion necessary in a modern society from reaching millions of women in Texas. No, I do not support the type of anti-abortion measures being pushed by the American right. Yes, the prevention of this bill is, probably, for the greater good in the long term of things.

However, its not the preventing the bill I have an issue with; its the method through which it was prevented that I have a substantial problem with. The filibustering part of this entire thing. In this case, the end result most certainly does not justify the means.

The argument can go both ways.
Heres the thing: filibustering is an entirely undemocratic, unconstitutional method of preventing laws and bills from being passed. It is a way to allow the opinions of a minority to prevail in face of substantial opposition

Filibusters have, in the past, been used to prevent (or attempt to prevent) extremely important landmark bills. Gun control is the latest example, in which just the threat of filibustering essentially halted the entire process. Worse, its has been used to try and prevent some of the Black Right's Movement's greatest achievements from becoming law: the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, the workplace and any other public place, was filibustered (by the Democrats no less) for 54 DAYS.

Thats right: here we have a tactic that was once used to try and defend some of the most disgusting and reprehensibly racist elements of American society, and now mainstream media is praising its use to high heavens. I hope people understand why I'm not entirely happy about this.

And the fact of the matter is, in the majority of cases it is in fact the exact same media that is currently lauding high praise to Senator Davis, that are the biggest critics of filibustering in virtually every other circumstance.

"I'm allowed to have this metaphorical gun thanks to a filibuster!"
Take the Rolling Stones, that I linked to above, for example: in their article about the filibuster made by Wendy Davis, they describe her feat as "epic", and heap praise upon her in high mounds. The title itself, "Why Wendy Davis' abortion right filibuster matters" essentially endorses the filibuster tactic as something of a legitimate political force. And yet what did they have to say about the filibuster and gun control? Their tone couldn't be any more different. "The victims of Tuscon and Aurora and Newtown were betrayed today" they say, referring to the minority of Senators who prevented the gun control bill from passing thanks to - you guessed it - a filibuster.

This, suffice to say, is hypocrisy at its greatest. It seems that cheap political tricks are only allowed when it favours bills that we agree on. This is not what we should be standing for. Either the Left is against the filibuster, or for it. If a threatened filibuster marks a betrayal for those who want gun control, then, frankly, a filibuster against anti-abortion laws is a betrayal to those who wanted anti-abortion laws. Remember, a vast majority of the Texas Senate, who were democratically elected representatives of the people of Texas, voted in favour of this - admittedly, in my opinion, reprehensible -  bill. However, my opinion doesn't really matter in this particular case. Why? Because the majority of those in Texas wished for the bill to be passed: the bill was democratic. Filibustering it represents a denial of the wish of the majority, by the minority. YES, I agree that the bill shouldn't have passed. But that is ONLY MY OPINION. My opinion should NOT become law, and neither should the opinion of the minority. 

Fact of the matter is, a majority of Americans supported the 20-week abortion ban (although narrowly). We've therefore seen today the defeat of a bill through a filibuster, despite that not being the wish of the majority of people in the United States. While I couldn't find any numbers to support this, I believe the number of Texans - whom the bill would affect - who support the SB5 would be even higher, given it is a majority Republican state.

On a final note: yes, it is true that the Republicans did try to cheat the bill through via unlawful methods at the end. Yes, it is true that Republicans are guilty of using the filibuster more often than Democrats in the Senate, especially in recent years. However, this does not excuse the use of the same tactic by Democrats; regardless of who uses it, the filibuster is an undemocratic tool used to allow the view of a minority to prevail over the majority. 

I condemn the use of the filibuster by either party, or any party, including in my own country, the UK. This, sadly appears to separate me somewhat from other people whom may broadly share my political views.

Either way, you've been reading the Random Babbling of a Slightly Odd Student. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing a structured article on the topic cause I could not find any ! T'was very instructive to learn about the anterior uses of flibustering. I keep thinking that the Senator is to be placed in a context, in a time in which she used all the means at her disposal to protect justice and liberty. Deeply inside I however can't help thinking that this tactic, just like many in our politic systems (and I say "our" knowing we don't come from the same country, neither from Wendy Davis' so I talk about the modern and standardized politic systems) should probably not be allowed. And surely the media who jumped on this story SHOULD have highligted that even if the result is praisable, the method is largely disputable.