Sam Goldman talks to Caroline Duble, the Political Director of Avow Texas about the abortion ban set to go into effect September 1st and the larger fight for abortion rights. Avow Texas’ slogan is “Unapologetic Abortion Advocacy” (cheers for that!).
Then, we play the speech given by the valedictorian at Lake Highlands HS in Dallas. 18 yr. old Paxton Smith eloquently and courageously gave voice to all the millions of people affected by this fascist law. We should all take heart from her message that we cannot stay silent.
Connect with the movement at RefuseFascism.org and support:
Caroline Duble 00:00
It’s one of the most extreme anti-abortion bills in the country right now. So it’s gonna be nearly impossible to access abortion. This is just giving anti-abortion extremists a weapon to harass people through our civil court system. I wouldn’t even call it conservative. I call it extremist, call it fascist and call it anti-people. I think it’s such a violation of our human dignity and constitutional rights.
Sam Goldman 00:42
Welcome to Episode 62 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Today, we’re bringing you a conversation that I recently had with Caroline Duble, political director for Avow, about the Republi-fascist assault on abortion in Texas, followed by Paxton Smith’s inspiring speech at her graduation from Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas.
Before we get into it, there are a couple of developments from this week that need to be addressed. Liberal blue check Twitter goes straight from telling you that Trump and the fascists are certifiably delusional to claiming that Trump and his family are going directly, inevitably to the Big House. This is the same delusional demobilizing claim they’ve been making since day one of Trump’s presidency. Hasn’t our collective experience over the past five years provided enough evidence that victory over fascism should never be taken for granted? On a deeper level, you must really internalize a point numerous guests and myself have stressed on this podcast. Fascism isn’t advancing merely because fascist want it, but because the fascist program provides some level of solutions to the crisis the ruling class faces. #TrumpIsUnwell was trending this past week. But this isn’t just madness. It is direction, purpose and momentum careening towards a truly American fascism. There’s a legion of millions willing to fight with everything they have for a white, Christian, patriarchal America-First world, allergic to facts and reason, hardened and tempered through the January 6 siege of the Capitol. A party completely willing and proving able to throw out the norms and whatever semblance of democracy, declaring any election that they don’t win illegitimate, and positioning through gerrymandering and massive voter suppression laws to guarantee that legally, but preparing to carry it out either way.
Last weekend, at a Q-Anon convention in Texas, Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, called for a military coup against the US government. When a member of the convention who identified himself as a marine posed to Flynn asked, “I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here,” Flynn responded, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That’s right.” That this was not a huge news story, that he is not under investigation from the army or anything else, that such news is so easily brushed off as impossible crazy talk is extremely dangerous.
As Jared Yates Sexton wrote this past week, “I don’t know…maybe pretending the last presidency didn’t exist, and that the growing fascist movement that is already working in very real material terms to steal elections, overthrow democracy, and is openly talking about a coup is the best course of action.” Chrissy Houlahan and Jason Crow wrote in their article, “If you’re shocked by Michael Flynn’s call for a coup, you haven’t been paying attention,” earlier this week for Time magazine, “If these were normal times, we’d say we were shocked and Flynn would be universally condemned and marginalized. But these are not normal times. Flynn’s comments are just the latest in a deliberate string of attacks against democracy and our rule of law, furthering dangerous conspiracy theories. None of this is accident. It’s part of a strategy to erode the democratic safeguards that undermine our democracy. The timeline and coordination speak for themselves.”
Maggie Habermann of the New York Times and Charles Cook of the National Review have reported that Trump is rallying support behind the notion that he will be reinstated by August. He’s talking about election audits, and even running for a House seat to oust Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. What does it say about a society that can’t even hold to account this man who attempted to consolidate fascism for four years, who fomented a violent coup attempt who idolizes the most genocidal figures in American history? When do we confront this whole fascist movement, head on?
Following the activities of these fascists, understanding what they are doing, and working to oppose them continues to be critical work. It’s the work that every week you are a part of when you tune in spread, and discuss this podcast.
In today’s episode of Refuse Fascism, we’re chatting with Caroline Duble, Political Director for Avow Texas, working on the front lines in the fight for abortion rights and access in Texas. Last week, Governor Abbott signed into law one of the most outrageous abortion restrictions, a law that effectively prohibits any abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy, and as many have pointed out, before many women are even aware that they’re pregnant. Welcome, I’m so glad to have you with us. Let’s start with what’s happening. What is this law that goes into effect in September?
Caroline Duble 06:40
SB-8 is the law we’re talking about here. And this bill has already passed through the legislature and been signed by Governor Abbott. It’s one of the most extreme anti- abortion bills in the country right now. We’ve seen a trend in conservatives filing and passing these bills that they’re calling fetal heartbeat bills. What they’re referring to is medically incorrect. There is no heartbeat at six weeks gestation, simply not scientific data that they’re using. But they’re using language that they think will be effective in mobilizing their base to ban abortion, pre-viability. Our Supreme Court has always held that that is unconstitutional. Pre-viability bans have consistently failed in the courts. There’s a lot at stake, especially because as I’m sure some of your listeners have heard that the Supreme Court is taking up a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade in their next cycle. So this is very scary. We don’t know what’s going to happen on the national level. But on the Texas level, this goes into effect on September 1st.
This is essentially a total ban on abortion. Because most Texans, or many Texans, don’t even know that they are pregnant at six weeks. Not only do you have to find out that you’re pregnant by the six week mark, but you also have to confirm that pregnancy, speak with your partner, your family, your doctors, consider your finances, your desires, what you want for yourself and your future, make a decision and schedule the procedure while still complying with Texas’ many existing restrictions on abortion like a forced sonogram and a 24-hour waiting period. So it’s going to be nearly impossible to access abortion under this law. And that is the situation as of right now. It’s going to affect September 1st. There could be a court challenge before then that could delay it or change the enactment date at any point. But as of right now we’re looking at a September 1st enactment date.
Sam Goldman 08:26
One of the things that to me when I was reading about it was the most “WTF?” was looking at how basically they’re codifying vigilantism. Anyone can sue a woman for or a person that’s having an abortion for getting said abortion. Can you talk a little bit more about this? How is this happening? What is it exactly? Maybe I’m wrong, or understanding it wrong.
Caroline Duble 08:57
So the cause of action, the way that they plan to enforce this law, is what makes it extra concerning and unique compared to these other “fetal heartbeat” bills, these six week bans that are being considered across the country. The Texas bill, SB-8, has a very unique enforcement method. It basically takes enforcement out of the hands of the state, so they will never have to defend their own law in court and puts enforcement in the hands of literally anyone. So the law states “any person.” It says any person. It does not say you have to be in Texas. It does not say that you need to know the person you are suing. You do not have to have proof to sue and you do not have to cover attorneys’ fees, even if the defendant is found to be in compliance with SB-8. Any person can sue anyone in Texas for providing abortion or helping someone access abortion. So they actually cannot sue the person who had the abortion themselves. Interestingly, they’re really trying to avoid constitutional challenges by doing that. So basically, they’re saying that anyone can sue anyone in Texas who helps someone access an abortion after six weeks. Under this law, an abortion after the six week mark will be, “illegal.” I don’t even like to say it because I think it’s such a violation of our human dignity and constitutional rights.
Under this law, an abortion after the six week mark will be against Texas law. They are allowing any old person to enforce it. In practice, they’re basically giving our civil court system, which is already overloaded and kind of a mess, as a weapon in the toolbox for anti-abortion extremists. So there can be, for example, an anti-abortion group in Indiana who has decided that they want to shut down some of the abortion clinics in Texas. They’re going to be able to file lawsuit after lawsuit claiming that this abortion clinic is providing abortions after the six week mark and whether they are or not, they’re going to have to deplete all their resources defending themselves in court, because you don’t have to have any proof to sue, and they don’t have to cover a defendant’s legal fees. This is just giving anti-abortion extremists a weapon to harass people through our civil court system. I mean, outside of the obvious problems with a six week ban on abortion, this is just really bad policy. Even amongst conservatives who are supposed to care about limiting frivolous and harassing lawsuits, this really is egregious and gross, quite frankly.
Sam Goldman 11:15
I couldn’t agree more. I think basically, this law, which was signed by straight-up Christian fascists, the mission of it is to unleash this army of women-hating anti- abortionists to enforce it. The implications for this model being replicated in other places, not that it being enacted in Texas alone isn’t enough to like sound the alarm — it definitely is! But I think it’s also being tested as a model for what could be done in other states in this country. We should care about what happens in Texas, because we care about the women and others who seek abortions in Texas. But we should also know that what happens there, it could be happening where you are next. You alluded to this earlier in something that you said, that the GOP in Texas has been trying to ban abortions for a long time. Why do you think that now is the moment that they’re so emboldened and gaining so much ground?
Caroline Duble 12:13
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this. You know, I don’t know if I have the only answer. But one perspective that I definitely think is that these fascists, these extremists are losing nationally. They lost their national leader, President Trump, and they lost the House and the Senate federally. And so I think the fact that they still have control in some states like Texas, it’s like backlash. They feel like they’re losing ground overall, so they’re clinging to the power they have in places where they do have it and they’re just pushing through really extreme bans. And I actually think there’s a lot to be said about what happened this session that I have concerns about, like the fact that this Texas House Speaker Dave Phelan, was able to push through all this legislation, when he was elected by a bipartisan coalition. Even Democrats supported his speakership. And so I have a lot of questions about what promises were made behind closed doors, kind of what’s going on, that voters don’t know about that is allowing someone that is clearly an extremist to oversee a bipartisan coalition.
I think abortion in particular is something that continues to be thrown under the bus, even by progressives in states like Texas. And there’s a lot to be said about that. Because if you actually look at the breakdown, between Democrats and Republicans in this state legislature, it’s more even than it ever has been. We have more of a balance of power. That should mean that policies become more moderate. Instead, they have become more extreme and that we saw, not just in our issue area, the attacks on transgender children, which fortunately failed, the attacks on union leaders and labor rights… I mean, there have been some awful things that have gone through this session. And I just have a lot of question marks about how this was allowed to happen when we actually have more of a balance of power than I’ve seen since I’ve been working in Texas politics. A lot of questions there. But I think it’s mostly backlash. I think it’s just how the pendulum swings. When they feel like they’re losing, they attack harder.
I think the national narrative – young people, Gen Z, everyone is amazing as super pro-abortion and unapologetic about their values and people are fighting back in so many different ways, unique ways on Tik Tok, all these things that I couldn’t even explain to you if I tried as a millennial, I’m so impressed by the backlash that’s happening. And I think it’s a reaction to that. I think they see young women, young queer people, living their authentic lives and they’re mad about it. And so they’re like, we’re gonna try to take away your joy. We will not let you live. We will not let you celebrate. That’s why we have such unapologetic messaging. We will not back down. We are pro-abortion. Abortion is a good thing. It allows people to thrive. It allows people to live their lives. We are not going to hide behind this vague idea of choices or only women’s rights. This is for everyone. Abortion benefits communities. Abortion benefits families. Abortion benefits everyone, it’s our future. It’s our ability to determine the life that we want for ourselves. And it really is just healthcare.
Sam Goldman 15:06
It really is that prerequisite for even a chance at freedom.
Caroline Duble 15:11
Right, the state cannot control our bodies.
Sam Goldman 15:15
I really appreciate Avow’s commitment to being abortion advocates, to making sure that abortion is on demand to women and communities who need them, and not only that it’s legal, but that it’s accessible. I just really appreciate that. One question that a friend of mine who lives in Texas was wondering is, do you think that there’s a connection between the courts being stacked with the three appointments that Trump got – Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – whether that is part of what’s impacting at the state level in the minds of Abbott and the rest? Do you think that there’s a connection between that? I noticed that shortly after the law that we were talking about, they also did a trigger bill.
Caroline Duble 16:01
There’s definitely a connection between what happened in this past Texas legislative session and what’s happening at the Supreme Court. I think that’s no surprise. I think extremists have always used state legislatures to try to push the Supreme Court to overturn precedent or to change things. And you know, honestly, that’s just a legal strategy. It happens on both sides. That’s pretty common, using local laws and state laws to try to change what’s happening nationally. However, I think the fact that the court is so stacked with Trump appointees and has a super majority, yeah, like you said, I wouldn’t even call it conservative I’d call it extremist. I’d call it fascist. I’d call it anti- people.
This Supreme Court is a welcoming court towards bills like SB-8. If you look at the court’s decision from 2020, June, Medical Services versus Rousseau, that was the Louisiana abortion ban that the court actually said was unconstitutional, surprisingly, everyone was really surprised, because Justice John Roberts, the Chief Justice, sided with the liberal majority, and so this law was shot down. However, in Chief Justice John Robert’s opinion, he basically gave anti-abortion extremists a roadmap for a bill that he would find constitutional. He wrote out, I can’t overturn such recent precedent, because it would make me look bad. But here’s what you can do to tweak this bill just enough to where I could actually uphold it. So obviously, we don’t know what will happen with this Mississippi case. I can’t even pretend to know what goes on in the mind of someone like Chief Justice John Roberts. But I don’t have a lot of hope that the court as it stands will protect abortion. I don’t see that. There’s a variety of legal scenarios that could happen that a lawyer to probably better break down. But I think there’s a lot of concern. People are really scared. And it’s more important than ever to donate to state organizations and to abortion funds that are going to make sure people can access abortion, no matter what the law says. They’re going to get people out of the country if they have to. They’re going to raise money, they’re going to arrange travel, they’ve always done that. That’s always been their history. And they’ve already been fighting the unnecessary restrictions in Texas for years. This will be a huge barrier to their work, and they’re going to need our support.
Sam Goldman 18:06
The GOP in Texas is cementing in minority rule, fascist rule. And on a rampage right now with the abortion ban, removing licensing to handguns and whitewashing history of slavery taught in schools. And I’m wondering how you personally, or even whether this has been a conversation that you have had whether organizing around abortion rights needs to meet this new reality by organizing in a different way, given that these aren’t normal politicians. This isn’t normal politics. I’m just wondering if you could share a little bit about the journey that maybe you’ve been on or about what’s going on around this changed situation?
Caroline Duble 18:44
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think really important. On a personal level, I think everyone needs to take stock of what they’re willing to do to fight what’s happening. And I think it’s a personal decision. And it’s going to depend on your own experiences and your own feelings. For me, it has looked like getting more involved. I live in Houston, so I’m working with a group of abolitionists on the city council’s police budget. And you know, there’s there’s all sorts of ways to get involved. And I think it’s a really important question personally that I encourage everyone to take stock and reflect on. As organizations, I think this is really interesting because we’re in this nonprofit structure. And we have these limitations like 501 (c) (3) tax dollars, 501 (c) (4) tax dollars. [IRS limitations on how organizational funds can be spent. Ed note]. All these barriers that we have to overcome to do the work that we want to do. But I have seen more and more, especially with abortion access and reproductive rights orgs in Texas, we are willing to push the envelope a little bit. People are willing to do more direct actions, more civil disobedience, more things that fight back because we are sick of losing.
That’s a big part of why we re-branded as Avow. We disaffiliated from NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and have launched our own branding and our own messaging to be unapologetic, because the old language and the old tactics aren’t working. We’re losing over and over again. Every session in Texas, at least one terrible abortion bill is passed. We’re sick of it. And we’re sick of also defending Democrats who don’t actually stand up for us. We’re asking them to say the word “abortion.” We are asking them to update their websites with better messaging that has been more specific. You’re not just fighting for healthcare, because not all healthcare is under attack. Although there’s an argument to be made in Texas, that all healthcare is actually under attack. Specifically, abortion is always under attack. And so that’s a big part of it, too, is working with the progressives that we have in the Texas State Legislature to push them on this issue and to tell them our stories, to introduce them to abortion storytellers, to have them sit in our messaging trainings, to ask them to change their websites and to have pro-abortion candidate forums in the primaries. We’re really asking Democrats to be better on this issue, especially in states like Texas.
The only other piece I’ll mention is just how important intersectionality is, and how important working in coalition is. I think some of the bills you mentioned, like the racist bill that limits teachers’ ability to talk about current events and critical race theory in schools, some of the bills around Medicaid expansion; labor unions, trans rights, these are all bills that we have a ton of coalition partners with. And we’re no longer just working with organizations that focus on abortion access and reproductive rights. I mean, we’ve always collaborated. But I think it’s been more intentional in the past year or so, because it’s the same people attacking us. And it’s the same thing that’s happening in our state legislature where our issues are being thrown under the bus for very miniscule progress, and we’re just not willing to make that sacrifice anymore.
Sam Goldman 21:30
I appreciate you sharing that with us and giving us the perspective of someone who’s on the frontline of this fight, and also someone who’s been on a journey with others to kind of figure out how do we respond to this truly five alarm fire moment for abortion rights? For our listeners who want to fight for and win back the right to abortion, what can they do?
Caroline Duble 21:50
One of the most important things you can do is shake off your own stigma around abortion. It’s not anything to be ashamed of. And it’s not anything that should be swept under the rug. The reality is that everyone has different circumstances and a wanted successful pregnancy is just not the reality for all of our reproductive lives. It’s really important that we all commit to fighting for abortion. We want abortion to be accessible. Yes, we want birth control. Yes, we want the full spectrum of health care, but not at the expense of abortion, because we will still need that. So I just encourage everyone to talk to the people in your lives. Tell them that you support abortion. Donate to Texas organizations, you know, there’s tons of other states just like Texas, so donate to some of the statewide organizations, especially if you’re in a state where even if the Supreme Court overturns precedent, your access will be protected. Think about all of us down here in Texas. We’re really scared and we’re really worried. Support one another, shake off the stigma, donate if you can, go to a rally. Y’all got this.
Sam Goldman 22:51
And to learn more about Avow and your work?
Caroline Duble 22:56
It’s AvowTexas.org. That’s where you can find out all about our legislative work. We’re going to be posting kind of a debrief of this session, some of the other things that happened that people aren’t even talking about because the stuff that we just talked about is so much worse. And that’s also where you’re gonna find out about our plan to fight back in 2022.
Sam Goldman 23:18
As what you just listened to made clear, this truly is a five-alarm fire moment for the right to legal abortion. Now is the time to, without hesitation, demand “abortion on demand and without apology.” I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Without this most basic right, women have no chance of freedom. The fascist threat is not gone, and relying on the Democrats to protect abortion rights, let alone to stop this whole fascist onslaught has consistently proven deadly. In my opinion, it’s worth taking to heart this quote from revolutionary Bob Avakian. “If you try to make the Democrats be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up being what the Democrats actually are.”
We could not do an episode on the Texas war on women without sharing the incredibly heroic speech, Paxton Smith gave as the 2021 valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas. She threw out her prepared and pre-approved speech to use her platform at her graduation, to speak out against the sinister woman-hating abortion ban that was signed into law and will go into effect in September. Much love to Paxton for courageously speaking out to protest Texas’s move to outlaw abortion and unleash fascist vigilantes to help and punish abortion providers, and those who aid someone getting an abortion. What she says about what is at stake, and the cost of our silence speaks for itself. We all should follow her brilliant example. Have a listen.
Paxton Smith 25:18
I’m not usually very good at expressing my gratitude for the people that I care about. But I would like to say thank you to coach. I think he’s had a bigger role in my life than he realizes. As we leave high school, we need to make our voices heard. Today, I was going to talk about TV and media and content because it’s something that’s very important to me. However, under light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in the state. Recently, the heartbeat bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape, or incest. Six weeks, that’s all women get. And so before they realize most of them don’t realize that they’re pregnant by six weeks. So before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically and financially stable enough to carry out a full term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives is made by a stranger.
I have dreams, and hopes and ambitions; every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future. And without our input, and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts from my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you. And I’m talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honoring 12 years of hard academic work, on a day where we are all gathered together, on a day where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman’s voice, to tell you that this is a problem. And it’s a problem that cannot wait. And I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there was a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent. Thank you. [crowd cheers]
Sam Goldman 28:19
Attacks on the right to abortion in the Republi-fascist legislatures of this country and in the courts are deadly serious, and they must be vociferously opposed by people from all walks of life to stop them. Anti-abortion legislation is sweeping this country. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of June 1, 81 abortion restrictions have been enacted in 2021. We’ll be bringing you more on the Republi-fascist assault on abortion, what’s fueling it, enabling it and what’s needed to stop it in future episodes from the perspective of lawyers, abortion providers, abortion advocates, scholars and revolutionaries.
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