Memo (yet again) to the big-tent advocates in the Republican Party – or for that matter, any Republican who wants the GOP to ever win another national election: Do not literally try to shut up women.
Wendy Davis, a Texas state legislator, became a Twitter and other-Internet sensation when she took to the floor Tuesday to filibuster an anti-abortion bill. Not only would the legislation ban abortions after 20 weeks (a constitutionally questionable move, and clearly intended to force a case at the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of a ruling allowing states to ban abortions outright), but it imposed restrictions that would effectively close most of the clinics in Texas where abortions are performed. Under the rules, Davis was not allowed to go to the bathroom. She was not allowed to talk about unrelated topics (unlike the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican who recited his grandmother's biscuit recipe when he was filibustering a civil rights bill). And she not only was not allowed to sit, but she was not allowed to lean.
She talked all day and into the night, with the hopes of killing the bill before the legislative session ended at midnight. Opponents tried to invalidate her filibuster, invoking idiotic rules that are about as sensible and manipulated as literacy tests for voters. They said she had violated the "no lean" rule by accepting help from someone offering a back brace. They said she went off topic by talking about Planned Parenthood – huh? Planned Parenthood, which indeed performs abortions as a small part of its women's health care services? They tried, basically, to shut her up.
Eventually, the vote was held up because of public outrage, expressed in public disruption. That was understandably aggravating for members who wanted a vote – they have a right to conduct proceedings without that display of democracy thwarted by a more crude expression of democracy. But it's hard to feel a lot of sympathy for them since, well, they started it.
You'd think the Republicans would have smartened up by now. They've lost elections they should have won because their candidates talked about "legitimate rape" and pregnancies from rape being a gift from God. They tried to make women undergo sonograms before getting an abortion, the implication being that women are just too stupid to understand what they are doing. Mind you, the men who proposed the idea are definitively pretty stupid when it comes to the details of basic human reproduction, since a sonogram at the early stages of pregnancy isn't the Hallmark commercial, jelly-on-the-belly test where the woman is happy to be pregnant and seeing her developing fetus on a monitor. It involves inserting a large plastic device into a woman's vagina – a very invasive and even painful procedure; ask anyone who's had it. But of course, none of the men demanding the test have vaginas.
More recently, they had a county Republican chairman refer to a female (GOP!) challenger as a "streetwalker," and another congressman say schools should teach boys and girls about gender roles since fathers "are better at some things" than mothers.
So why on earth would Republicans in Texas take a political metaphor to an obscene literal form, trying to keep a female lawmaker from being heard? Republicans have had trouble with female voters, and it's not because of an anti-abortion agenda. Not all women are in favor of abortion rights. It's because some of the GOP's more clueless members talk about and treat women like they are children, stupid, irrational or all three. No matter how you feel about abortion, it would be hard to find a woman – especially one who has worked outside the home – who has not experienced the indignity of having the men in the office shout her down, put up a silencing hand or otherwise try to shut her up. You want to push a nuclear button? Keep trying to muzzle your female colleagues in elected office. If the party were on the couch, the therapist would be asking this: do you really ever want to win another national election? Or are you so afraid of success – or reluctant to actually be in charge and responsible for what goes wrong – that you are deliberately sabotaging yourselves?
Abortion foes in Texas are likely to win on the bill itself – Gov. Rick Perry already called another special session to vote on the bill. But they may lose a much broader fight. Women are more than half the population and the strong majority of voters. The behavior of the Texas GOP is just giving women around the country another reason to vote against the party.