Editor’s Note: Liza Love, an Arizona pro-choice activist, testified against House Bill 2838 at the Arizona House of Representatives on February 15, 2012. She shares her experience speaking out for reproductive rights.
I am one of millions. We all have some sort of story that reflects the positive impact of Planned Parenthood in our world. There are some of us who honor that role loudly, there are those who allow it to have a quiet sort of resonance, and there are even some who refuse to acknowledge it at all, but that makes it no less true.
We must get to a place where ridiculous ideology is unacceptable from our leaders, where science and facts are not vilified. That will happen when our voices are louder and more coherent.
I have wanted to give back to Planned Parenthood for a long time. Not having much monetarily to share, I have given what I could over the years, yet still felt a need to do more. When I read about HB2838, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks, even in the case of fetal anomalies, I was astonished! I had just moved and had a ton of unpacking to do, but I knew I would be at the hearing for HB2838 to make my voice heard. The plan was that I was going to show up at the Arizona House of Representatives early, meet with my fellow pro-choice activists outside, and get the story of someone who couldn’t be present so that I could share it on his or her behalf. It would allow me to support women and health and see the process of lawmaking all at the same time.
When I arrived at the Capitol, I ended up in this tiny room that was so full it would be an understatement to compare it to being packed like sardines! There were people everywhere! Rep. Cecil P. Ash, the chairman, was reading some guidelines for the hearing, and then some proposed amendments from Rep. Matt Heinz were being explained to the panel, and ultimately, all but one was voted down. That alone was eye-opening. First of all, Dr. Heinz is a friend to women’s reproductive health and overall well-being, and his efforts to make sure his peers are informed with facts and details was refreshing.
Rather than stand in the back of the room with the other lookie-loos and later arrivals, I decided to step to the front of the room. Once I got up there, I realized there was an empty seat in the front row and excitedly took my place in (literally) the front and center of the seating area. Still without the story I was supposed to read during my testimony, I texted my Planned Parenthood contact to let her know my good fortune and settled in to be a fly on the wall and absorb all that I could.
You have to know a few things about me to make the impact of the rest of the morning clear. I am a total policy wonk. I watch C-SPAN regularly, and am one of the few people who actually know all of the names of our representatives both in the national arena and my district (this is right after moving!), as well as even municipal and local government representatives. I was selected to serve on a grand jury and you would have thought it was Christmas, and even took law classes and thought about that as a career. I am not unaware of “how the sausage is made.” It’s not a pretty process, lawmaking and “governing,” and I know it.
So here I am, sitting in the center of this room, listening to the people who have chosen to share their stories and information, I become aware that the representatives are leaving and re-entering the room, several at a time at one point. I am disheartened and sad and angry. The woman to my left is texting someone, “Will you pray with me later?” She is mumbling under her breath in response to a comment about the number of women who sought abortions before Roe v. Wade and were injured or died. In addition, I don’t have the story in my hands that I am supposed to be reading; I haven’t seen my Planned Parenthood contact and am starting to have no idea why any of us are even really here. How is this even possible today? This is 2012 for crying out loud! When did this ridiculousness become viable?
Then I hear my name. I didn’t think, just stood and went to the lectern. Oh, boy. Although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kimberly Yee, wasn’t there to hear my testimony, I said something about how they had probably already made up their minds and none of our stories mattered. But I implored them to listen and really think about what they were considering. I mentioned that for all of their desire to be about “life,” they were not thinking about the living. In response to the lady next to me who inspired it, I said that if they wanted to pray, please pray for me, pray for us all. But pray to a god that knows the hearts of the women and doctors who would be impacted by this and knows that the choices we make are not callous or without regard …
I remember looking at one of the women on the panel who had the most open and sincere look of interest on her face — it was hard for me not to cry. I don’t even know who she was, but I am pretty sure she was not just listening, but heard me. I finished and quickly left the room — I couldn’t get to my car fast enough. I hit the seat of the car and just cried.
How difficult to be so exposed and sincere about something while the people in charge have such little regard for the people whom they claim to be representing. How frightening that we are in a place where such absurd legislation is actually proposed, let alone entertained. How lovely was the face of that glorious woman, letting me know she was hearing me and that she cared … The tears began to cease, and I felt something inside of me shift. We have to change things. We have to get back to a place where ridiculous ideology and judgmental irreverence are not acceptable from our leaders. We have to get to a place where science and facts are not vilified. We have to make things better, and that will only happen when our voices are the ones that are louder and more coherent.
I drove out of the parking lot, the sun on my face. As terrifying and devastating and taxing as the process of dealing with the machinery in the government was, I understand the importance of being there and making them accountable. As I was driving, I realized, they might have voted to pass it. I decided that regardless of the outcome, I need to help be a voice for the voiceless. I need to make sure that I have done all I can — and if some politicians want to be contrary to logic and reason, I want them to be on the record for having been so. I want the truth out there and the lies exposed, and I want to be a part of making that possible in any way I can.
The system is wounded and damaged, and many of us are too. We are tired of trying simply to survive, let alone take on something as big as changing the minds of legislators. Yet I wasn’t the only one in that room who was desperate for them to hear reason and truth. And for every one of us who was in that room, there were many more who would be, if they only knew the impact they could make.
When we stand together and let our voices reverberate, by whatever means and methods we have available, they listen. It wasn’t me who changed anything. It was the massive amount of emails that we all sent, and the threat of publicity and exposure of truth versus fiction — it was all of us together.
House Bill 2838 died officially on February 21 — though it was soon resurrected as HB2036. That’s a big deal, it really is. The even bigger deal for me is that I am awake. I am the cheerleader who will lose her voice for cheering so loudly. I am the person who will always stand to tell one of the many stories that show the tremendous importance of Planned Parenthood. I am a warrior in the battle for women’s reproductive rights and the importance that has for all of us. I am no longer capable of sleeping through inconceivable “They passed what!?” legislation moments; I will be front and center for it all.
House Bill 2838 died, and an activist was born.