'Our generation will not be dragged backwards': ACL Fest artists protest Texas abortion law
Before the Austin City Limits Music Festival kicked off with the most female-forward lineup in the event’s history, the Texas Legislature passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country.
The law, also known as Senate Bill 8, bans almost all abortions at six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant. It empowers private citizens to file suit against anyone who assists a pregnant person in seeking the reproductive health procedure and, if successful, to collect a bounty of $10,000 or more. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation in May, and it took effect last month.
In the wake of its passage, some artists, including Saturday headliner Billie Eilish, considered skipping the festival.
"When they made that (expletive) a law, I almost didn’t want to do the show," Eilish said during her Weekend 1 set. She wanted to punish the place that allowed the abortion law to happen. Then she "remembered you guys are the victims, and you deserve the world."
Eilish wasn’t the only artist to use her platform at ACL Fest to speak out against SB8.
Rap sensation Megan Thee Stallion shouted down the "(expletive expletive) men trying to tell us what the (expletive) to do with our bodies." Indie star Phoebe Bridgers told Abbott to perform a lewd act and played a song that she had released to support women's health advocate groups. Young pop artist Gracie Abrams called the law an attack on “personal agency and dignity.”
“I just think it's very clear that our generation will not be dragged backwards, and I think we need to make our voices very loud and inconvenient for those who do not believe in our right to choose what is best for our bodies,” Abrams said at the end of her Saturday afternoon set.
Behind the scenes, ACL Fest organizers also took actions to resist the new law. The festival partnered with Noise for Now, a New Mexico-based organization that works with musicians to raise money and awareness for local organizations that provide and protect reproductive rights, including abortion access. The festival purchased special Texas-edition T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Don’t Snitch on my Snatch” and placed them, along with the organization’s signature Roe ‘73 T-shirts, in all the artists’ dressing rooms, said Amelia Bauer from Noise for Now.
Bauer called the slogan “genius,” adding that the law that “incentivizes abortion bounty hunters” at its heart is “a snitch law.”
At a panel presented on the festival’s Bonus Tracks stage Sunday, Texas politician and former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis echoed that sentiment. She called the law “absurd and predatory” in the way it entrusts enforcement to what she called a “bunch of vigilante anti-abortionists."
Davis spoke of how the law immediately closed most abortion clinics in Texas. She relayed anecdotes she had heard about the law preventing a 13-year-old rape victim and a woman without access to childcare from receiving reproductive care.
For Austin musician Gina Chavez, who performed at the women’s rally at the Capitol on Saturday before heading out to ACL Fest, those sorts of stories changed her perspective about abortion. A devout Catholic, Chavez said she “used to be the kind of person that would actually pick fights with people about abortion.”
But her ideas evolved over time. “If we're really going to call ourselves pro-life, it means so much more than pro-birth,” she said. She wishes people would focus on “everything that happens after that child is born” to “a young mother who then doesn't have any support system,” she said.
Kathy Valentine, an Austin native and bassist from the groundbreaking rock band the Go-Go’s, joined Davis on the Sunday panel to talk about her own experiences with abortion.
“I feel very strongly that I have achieved so much of what I wanted to in music — I made it in the music business, (I’m) being inducted in the Rock Hall of Fame, and I feel like a really, really realized and accomplished woman — and much of it is because I had access to safe and legal abortion,” Valentine told the American-Statesman after the panel.
Valentine first became pregnant before she was a teenager.
“I don't think having to birth a baby at 12 years old would have been good for my emotional or mental health,” she said.
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Later, as the Go-Go’s embarked on their debut international tour when Valentine was 21, she had a second abortion.
“My birth control failed me,” she said. “I had a choice to leave the career that was just starting to take off and all my dreams, or have an abortion and continue on and then become a mom when I was financially stable, emotionally stable, mature. And thank God I had that choice.”
A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked enforcement of the law.
Eric Webb and Kelsey Bradshaw contributed to this report.