This article has been updated.
Joan Wyatt stood at a podium Wednesday in front of hundreds of people. As she spoke, her voice echoed through screens set up in socially distanced tents outside at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. The crowd was quiet.
“In my early 20s, at a painful and difficult time in my life, I had an abortion,” she began.
Wyatt’s audience was a sympathetic one: hundreds of Planned Parenthood South Texas supporters who had come out for its annual fundraising luncheon. Yet she still acknowledged the discomfort of sharing her story.
“While this fact is not easy for me to share with you,” she continued, “not only am I without regret and shame about my choice, I am grateful to have had access to safe and legal abortion care, at a time when I was grossly unprepared to nurture a healthy pregnancy or become a parent.”
For thousands of women in Texas, that access has been stripped away by Senate Bill 8, which allows anyone to sue anyone for providing an abortion or assisting in any way after six weeks of pregnancy — before most women know they are pregnant. The law took effect on Sept. 1. And while the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay the law, several cases have since been filed seeking to block it.
Late Wednesday, a federal judge in Austin temporarily blocked the law, issuing a preliminary injunction in a suit brought by the Biden administration. The state is expected to appeal.
Planned Parenthood has paused its abortion services while its affiliates fight legal battles, including winning a temporary restraining order in Travis County against an anti-abortion group, but its clinics remain open to continue to provide a wide range of health care services. On Monday, the Texas Supreme Court denied a request from Planned Parenthood to unpause its lawsuit that argues the abortion ban is unconstitutional.
“These lawsuits are not against the women,” John Seago with Texas Right to Life, which helped write the bill, told NPR. “The lawsuits would be against the individuals making money off of the abortion, the abortion industry itself. So this is not spy on your neighbor and see if they’re having an abortion.”
While 1 out of 4 American women will have an abortion by the age of 45, Wyatt said, many keep that experience a secret from their spouses and families.
“I would prefer not to tell you my story,” she said, citing privacy and shame as reasons so many women don’t share their stories.
“Have you ever heard the expression you’re as sick as your secrets?” she asked the crowd. “Shame festers in secrecy and binds us in silence. I believe now is the time to change the abortion narrative, to break the silence to own our choices and our rights not just privately, but with others.”
Wyatt urged the crowd to start sharing their own abortion experiences to remove the stigma and shame associated with the procedure.
Wyatt received a standing ovation.
Later, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian Jon Meacham, who headlined the nonprofit’s luncheon, spoke to the underlying, natural conflict that comes with the “American experiment” of democracy.
“We are here at an hour of remarkable peril in the life of our democracy,” Meacham said. “I do try to be reassuring because things have never been particularly easy in America. If democracy were straightforward and simple, more people would do it.
“The tensions, forces, the issues that bring you all here today are perennial,” he said.
While the U.S. has always been divided, Meacham said the problem is that division has increasingly slim margins.
However, he added, “there are reachable people in the United States, I believe, who are movable by reason, by experience, and by history, [and] by the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln called it. And we have to tell that story. You have to tell a story where possibility is more important than peril — and I don’t need to tell anybody in Texas about the power of the politics of fear.”
According to a recent national poll, 46% of adults support the law, 47% oppose it, and 7% were undecided. More than half of men, 53%, support it.
Planned Parenthood and other organizations will continue to direct women who are seeking abortions to out-of-state clinics and financial resources, said Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Texas. Clinics in San Antonio are also offering free emergency contraception to those who request it.
Making abortions illegal will not prevent women from getting abortions, Hons said.
“The authors of this terrible abortion law believe that this will somehow change the human sexual condition [and] reshape people’s love lives and their reproductive choices and decision making in the shape of some preferred right-wing ideology,” he said, adding a message to Gov. Greg Abbott: “that will not happen, Greg.”
Hons, who has served as Planned Parenthood South Texas’ chief executive for 22 years, announced last month that will retire from the nonprofit mid-next year.
Elise Boyan, board chair of the nonprofit, said the board has formed a selection task force to find Hons’ successor.
“So stay tuned, stay alert, stay proud, stay loud and angry,” Boyan said. “And if your name is Jeffrey Hons, always stay in touch.”