AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Travis County judge in Texas’ state capital made her sentiments visible last week, donning a “pussyhat” to preside over a meeting at which she forcefully advocated for women’s reproductive rights.
County judges in Texas are not judicial officers; they are the county’s executive officers, and preside over county commission meetings. Like all county commissioners, county judges are elected. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt is the first woman elected to the post in her county.
Eckhardt wore a pink pussyhat during the commission’s Jan. 24 meeting, at which the commission considered a proclamation supporting reproductive health care. Travis County, based in Austin, is a liberal enclave in Texas.
The pink, knitted beanie with pointy cat ears has become a symbol of solidarity with women’s rights, particularly since the nationwide Women’s Marches on Jan. 21.
Eckhardt, who took 62 percent of the Travis County vote in 2015, said, “Get my cat ears going here for this one,” at last week’s meeting, as she adjusted her hat while introducing the reproductive choice proclamation.
When the commission met again this Tuesday to vote on a revised version of the proclamation, neither the judge’s pussyhat nor the word “abortion” made an appearance.
The proclamation, which also has been proposed as a resolution in the Austin City Council, was timed to coincide with the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade.
It followed close on the heels of the introduction of a bill in the Texas legislature that would prohibit abortion from “fertilization until birth” and allow murder charges to be filed against women who have abortions and doctors who perform them.
“There are one in three pregnant, capable people in this country who need abortion care in their lifetime,” Eckhardt said at the Jan. 24 meeting. “It’s a decision that should be left to the individual as a personal, private matter without government interference, which is what we’re here to honor today. And for many other families and individuals, this is not just a decision that they’re making, but it’s also life-saving health care.”
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty called the original proclamation “a little problematic” because it mentioned “abortion” seven times.
“There’s no more electrifying subject matter, especially today with what’s happened in the last couple weeks, to where that is such a lightning rod of a word,” Daugherty said at the original meeting. “And for somebody that is so supportive of women’s health care, I just hate to be boxed in a spot where I’ve got to go out and defend why I would support something that has to … get in your face over, you know, the abortion issue.”
Eckhardt agreed to postpone a vote on the proclamation for a week, to refine the language in search of a unanimous vote.
She achieved it on Tuesday. The revised version was nearly identical to the original, though the word “abortion” had been edited out entirely, replaced with phrases such as “termination of a pregnancy” and “reproductive choice.”
Eckhardt’s pussyhat was also missing. Her spokesperson Loretta Farb declined to comment as to why.
Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said this week that his office had not received any complaints about Judge Eckhardt’s hat, and that he is not aware of any law that restricts clothing choices for county commissioners.
But Farb said the judge’s office has received complaints and messages of support about Eckhardt’s hat. Social media commentators were not restrained; at least one called her “unprofessional and unethical” for wearing the pussyhat. One called her a criminal for wearing the hat.
“You should be removed immediately!” one Facebook poster wrote. “You have incriminated yourself and confirmed your bias with your behavior and you no longer deserve nor command the respect that typically accompanies the position of a judge.”
Across the country, other elected officials have been spotted wearing pussyhats.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, wore one to the recent presidential inauguration.
Former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis wore a matching pink dress with her pussyhat to speak at the Women’s March in Austin.
Creators of the PussyhatProject say they created the hat and website to “reclaim” the word “pussy” as a means of empowerment.
Many women who wore the hats to the Women’s Marches carried signs, “Pussy Grabs Back,” a response to Donald Trump’s recorded comments about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
“Pussyhat Project is a movement, not just a moment,” the creators declared on the project's website after the marches. “Hold onto your hats, and wear them loudly and proudly.”
Eckhardt’s spokesperson said the judge does not plan to wear the hat to a meeting of the commissioners court again.
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