Senate Bill 5: Texas Rep Resorts to Coat Hanger to Make Her Point

Two weeks after Texas State Senator Wendy Davis now-famously filibustered to death Texas Senate Bill 5, the Texas state legislature is in another special session called by Governor Rick Perry. Perry and other Republicans hope to use the session to finally pass a version of the bill, but that hasn't stopped some Democrats from digging in their heels. Today, one of the heel-diggers, State House of Representatives member Senfronia Thompson, stepped to the floor to defend a proposed exception for rape victims to the 20-week deadline on abortions mandated by the bill.

It would take much more room than I have here to fully unravel the collection of tangents and non-sequiturs that adorn Rep. Thompson's comments. There are multiple references to the "undue burdens" imposed on socioeconomically disadvantaged women who might seek an abortion — a fine point, but not directly relevant to her amendment. There is an odd and seemingly irrelevant aside about whether or not rapists consider the political affiliation of their victims.

The core of Thompson's argument, of course, is that rape and incest victims face special circumstances that other women who have unwanted pregnancies do not face, and thereby ought to be given time exceeding the normal abortion deadline. Given the psychological strain of confronting and overcoming such brutality, especially in abusive homes where family members are often the perpetrators, Thompson's proposal itself seems entirely reasonable.

Unfortunately, the reasonableness of Rep. Thompson's argument was completely undermined by the demagogic tactic she used to make it. Thompson clearly intended to play to the basest emotional responses of her audience, hoping to elicit fear and anger by waving around, one after another, a knitting needle, a feather, a coat hangar, and a bottle of turpentine. Take a second, please, and consider: just how many thoughtful opponents of abortion rights — because surely the thoughtful ones are the ones you can actually convert — do you think will be won over by that kind of macabre imagery?

Liberals often and rightly tag anti-abortion activists brandishing pictures of dismembered and aborted fetuses as scare tacticians who exploit pity and anger — rather than good sense — to make their case. I sincerely hope to find the same disgust and righteous indignation from liberals (bastions of polite civil discourse that they take themselves to be) towards Rep. Thompson's display.

Indeed, Rep. Thompson's reliance on the crutch of emotional appeals in a civil debate was not only lazy, it was arrogant, too, for it signals that she does not consider her opponent's decision to be strong enough to warrant a well structured argument. But of course there are strong positions on both sides of the abortion debate — that's why for decades the battle cries on both sides of it have ricocheted off the walls of classrooms and cafes, in homes, and in the halls of academia. If it were an easy question, we wouldn't have to talk about it so damn much.

Clearly Thompson was aware that she was being filmed (after all, 100,000 + watched Wendy Davis's filibuster attempt two weeks ago), so it seems that she was more interested in putting on a show for the crowd and than engaging in any kind of real debate. Wendy Davis relied on principle to make her points. Senfronia Thompson relied on props.