Creating a stir: The Tyler women’s march denounced SB8

On Saturday, Oct. 2, over 35 cities and small towns across Texas held women’s marches, denouncing Senate Bill 8 (SB8), which bans abortion when cardiac activity is detected, at about six weeks of pregnancy. 

SB8 went into effect Sept. 1, becoming the most restrictive abortion law in the United States. Additionally, SB8 allows private citizens to sue abortion providers for $10,000 or more for anyone who assists an abortion. The bill does not include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also banned the use of medication abortion after seven weeks.

📷 all photos by Sorayda Rivera

In Tyler, over 400 women and men spanning generations gathered at the downtown square brandishing posters and chanting for women’s reproductive rights. The morning included local speakers, political candidates, vendor booths and voter registration. The march was organized by Dr. Nancy Nichols and Staci “Oller” Smith.

Nichols, said “…as of September 1, the right for a Texas woman to make her own decision about her body has been strangled…

“There are no exemptions. Take a moment and imagine a 14-year-old victim of incest. Image a victim of a violent rape. Imagine a mom who is carrying a severely malformed fetus that will not survive on its own. Or just imagine every woman who believes her body is not the political playground for Republican lawmakers.”

Nichols said restrictions on women have a long history. “In 1965 abortion was outlawed,” she said. “Birth control pills were available only to married women with written permission from their husbands. Many doctors refused to prescribe them…

“Most rape victims kept quiet. Females were said to be the cause of the rape: wearing enticing clothing or acting the wrong way. Even minor girls assaulted by older relatives were still cast as temptresses,” said Nichols.

Nichols said in private and social spheres, women were without agency. “Because women could not control pregnancy, women had no control of their lives. Employment was not dependable, so banks would not risk lending women money. 

“A woman could not get credit, buy a house or a car or take out a student loan unless her husband or her father, a man who was legally ‘responsible’ for her, co-signed the loan,” said Nichols.

According to Nichols, the Republican Party wants to regress women to a pre-1960s society.

“…the primary goal of Republican agenda is to re-establish white supremacy by overturning every advancement we have made in women’s rights,” said Nichols.

Nichols said women can resist. “This is an outright attack and the only way we maintain our basic rights is to stand up, speak up and vote for candidates who openly support women’s rights,” she said.

The Tyler march led the charge across the state. In a few short weeks, the women’s marches multiplied. “When SB8 passed the Texas Legislature, there was only one women’s march on the map in Texas — that was the Tyler Women’s March.

“People were calling me from Dallas, Galveston, Austin and many other cities saying they were coming by busloads to Tyler. My response was, ‘Hey y’all are Dallas! Have your own march!’ So they did.

“But let me emphasize that Tyler was the first. Tyler made history. Tyler has staked out the power of Texas. That is what this march was about: power.

“Women hold the power and women are commanding not just a seat at the table, but ownership of the table,” said Nichols.

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Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and attends Sam Houston State University remotely, where she studies sociology. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.