Last Saturday, the State of Texas passed House Bill 2, which is one of the most pro-life bills ever passed. The bill, among other things, will prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. This bill generated a lot of controversy. Pro-life advocates, dressed in blue, and pro-choice advocates, dressed in orange, flooded the Texas State Capitol to voice their opinions. Among those helping to rally the pro-life movement in Texas was speaker, writer, and entrepreneur Thomas Umstattd Jr., with whom I had a chance to interview after the bill was passed in order to get a true perspective of what the Texas State Capitol was like during the passage of H.B. 2.
Caleb Casto: What was your role at the Texas State Capitol?
Thomas Umstattd: Working with grassroots folks, answering questions, coaching people on non-violence, and helping folks to know where to go and when to go. I was helping with the folks on the ground.
CC: Could you tell us the story behind the “Let Texas Speak” grassroots rally?
TU: We had a conference call which the grassroots folks helped to organize what was going on at the
Capitol, and we were planning on having a rally, but when we found out that the Concerned Women for America were flying in Huckabee for their own rally, there was no need for us to do a rally. The chairman of our rally planning committee suggested for us to have another event on a different day where we would let folks from Texas speak for a couple hours outside for two or three hours. I thought that was a terrible idea, but they convinced me. So we brought in a film crew the next day. It took us 16 hours to go from idea to execution. We first set up inside so that women from Texas would share their stories, but it quickly got too big for the hallway that we were at, so we were asked to move into the Rotunda which is where we went. One hour turned into two hours, and two hours turned into four hours [the event lasted for nine hours], while hundreds of folks were watching online. After a while, the orange shirts [the pro-choice advocates] started coming to our event and started protesting our event, which made things a lot more interesting. Finally, we had hundreds of people in and around the rotunda either sharing their stories of why they are pro-life, or chanting against us. It was at our Let Texas Speak event that the whole “hail Satan” chanting thing happened. In the end, the rally ended up being a huge success. It was a real galvanizing force for our activists there at the Capitol. It was a great opportunity for folks who weren’t able to make it to the Capitol to be a part of the act. There were people who watched for hours and hours on the live-stream. Towards the end of the night, the protesters were circling us, chanting, and shouting at us while we were praying for them. It was one of the most intense days of my life. It was a lot of fun and it was very exhausting. I think I was there for thirteen hours that day helping to put that on. We did that rally during the House Committee meeting and enjoyed it so much we decided to do it during the Senate Committee meeting as well the next week. That one we cut off early because we did not want to conflict with the rally with Huckabee. So we shut down the second Let Texas Speak rally at about five o’clock and set up the cameras to live-stream the Huckabee rally. We had hundreds watch the Huckabee rally through our live-stream.
CC: What was the atmosphere like in the Capitol Building?
TU: The atmosphere was one of a battle. I haven’t been in a real battle, but I can’t imagine it being much more tense than what we had at the Capitol. The folks in orange shirts [the pro-choice protesters] really hated us. They were very, very angry, frustrated and desperate.
CC: As a Christian, did this debate seem to be less of a political issue and more of a spiritual issue?
TU: It definitely took on a very spiritual component, especially about half way through. I’ve never seen the other side prayer walking before to other gods and doing spiritual rituals around the capitol. That was a bit of a shock for me to see the other side doing direct spiritual warfare as well. One thing that we kept trying to remind our folks was that our enemy is not the folks in orange shirts. Our enemies are unseen spiritual forces, and that chanting at the other side distracts us from who our real enemy is, which is not them. It is the unseen powers of darkness, principalities, and such.
CC: There seems to be some misconceptions about this bill. Could you clarify what this bill will actually do?
TU: Well, it’s raising health standards for abortion clinics. Right now they have been given kind of a free pass – having lower standards. Some people say that they have the same standards as a veterinarian clinic. I don’t know if that’s true, but the argument is it’s time to stop treating women like animals and give them the same amount of care in women’s health that they get in any other kind of health situation. So, a lot of the details are kind of technical in raising the standards to ambulatory surgical centers, etc. The reality is that these clinics make a lot of money because they are able to provide sub-standard care, and the reason they are making so much noise is not because the clinics are going to close – very few clinics are going to close, but it’s going to mean that they can give fewer abortions each month because the doctors are going to have to spend more time with each woman giving better care to each woman. There’s a huge shortage of abortion doctors, and the only way they are able to function is by having the few doctors who are willing to commit abortions to travel around the state. Texas has, you know, 20 or 30 abortion clinics but maybe only 10 or 12 abortion doctors. So, they’re cheating basically. No other medical field works that way, and this bill is going to keep them from being able to cheat and actually provide quality healthcare, as quality of healthcare as an abortion can be. It’s still a terrible act and it’s still a deadly medical procedure for the baby, but we’re making it a little bit harder on the doctors and a little bit easier on the women.
CC: I’ve noticed that there are a surprising number of pro-life advocates who have voiced their opposition to this bill; the reason being is that it does not completely do away with abortion. Did you run into any of them at the Capitol?
TU: Not at the Capitol. Those folks are out there. We’ve had those kinds of people in America for 200 years. They’re the ones who caused the Civil War, in my opinion. Unlike England, which slowly chipped away at the institution of slavery piece by piece, Americans were all or nothing. They want to throw a Hail Mary every down and their investing strategy is by lottery ticket, making sure their investments were short-term gain. Those kinds of pro-lifers are very detrimental to the pro-life movement. They don’t get anything done. All they do is hurt folks who are getting stuff done, and they’re counterproductive. It’s best if the rest of the pro-life movement just ignore them, and that’s mostly what happens. They make a lot of noise but that’s all they can do because they don’t get anything done. The reality is if you want to win a football game you’ve got to do it play by play. If you want to lose weight you’ve got to do it little by little. If you want to invest and accumulate wealth you’ve got to do it piece by piece. When God gave the territory to the Israelites, he gave them all of the Promised Land but they had to take it piece by piece incrementally. That’s how the world works. Some folks don’t realize that. They think that if you can’t get it all you shouldn’t get any. They’re just wrong, and it’s okay to be wrong, but it’s important for those of us who realize that they’re wrong to not let them keep us from saving lives now.
CC: What was your most memorable experience while at the Capitol?
TU: Probably during the Let Texas Speak rally, while we had folks circling us and chanting, a small woman who has had an abortion got up, shaking, to share her story. Her courage in sharing that story really touched me. It took her 30-45 minutes to work up the courage to stand up on that stool with all those folks shouting hate at her. She shared her story and her love for the cameras. It was really powerful. She was a representative sample of dozens, if not hundreds of women just like her who shared their stories as well – a very powerful time during Let Texas Speak.
To follow what Thomas Umstattd Jr. is doing, follow him at his website http://www.thomasumstattd.com/
Follow Caleb Casto on Twitter @Caleb_Casto.