Texas lawmakers are back, and so is abortion fight
Updated On: Jul 01 2013 11:18:04 PM CDT
Thousands of demonstrators descended on the Texas Capitol Monday, the majority expressing their opposition to new abortion restrictions that a Democratic filibuster and raucous protests derailed last week.
Lawmakers convened a new special legislative session aimed at reviving the bill that would limit where, when and how women may obtain abortions in the state. Supporters say it will protect women's health and fetuses, while opponents say it is designed to shutter the state's abortion clinics.
More than 5,000 demonstrators gathered at noon to oppose the new abortion restrictions as television stars and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks rallied the cheering crowd.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Forth Democrat whose filibuster in the last session helped catapult her into the national spotlight, told the crowd that their support helped her maintain the effort.
"You were at the crux of a turning point in Texas history," Davis said.
The rally on the Capitol's south steps was the largest seen in Austin for years.
Opponents wore orange T-shirts and prepared for a rally with national women's rights leaders. Supporters wore blue and recited the Lord's Prayer outside the Senate. The measure's supporters were scheduled to hold their own rally later Monday.
Horse-mounted state troopers and police from as far away as Houston watched. More than 100 state police, many carrying helmets and truncheons, staged inside the Capitol building and newly erected crowd control barriers funneled visitors away from the entrances to the House and Senate chambers.
The Legislature's Republican majority has vowed to pass wide-ranging abortion restrictions quickly and easily this time.
"The world has seen images of pro-abortion activists screaming, cheering," Republican Gov. Rick Perry said. "Going forward, we have to match their intensity but do it with grace and civility."
Lawmakers finished their regular session on May 27, but Perry called them back immediately for 30 more days to approve, among other things, the tight new limits on abortion.
On the first special session's last day, however, Davis of Fort Worth was on her feet for more than 12 hours -- speaking most of that time -- as Democrats used a filibuster to help kill the sweeping abortion bill.
As the midnight deadline loomed, Republicans used parliamentary technicalities to silence her, but hundreds of protesters in the public gallery and surrounding Capitol corridors cheered so loudly that senators on the floor weren't able to hear, and the bill died as the clock ran out.
With lawmakers heading back, Sen. Donna Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican said, "I believe more presence by law enforcement will help keep disruptive behavior from thwarting the democratic process."
She said more families may turn up to express their views and "every Texan's voice deserves to be heard. Not just the noisiest and unruliest."
Lainie Duro sat on the Capitol floor at 8 a.m. Monday with a stack of feminist literature and sex education books.
"I'm always part of the unruly mob. We refuse to be ruled," she said. "Poor women, women of color, rural women. If they need abortion they will not be able to get an abortion. Health care in Texas is already difficult for people in poverty to access."
How much work lawmakers will accomplish Monday is unclear. They need a quorum to open the session. After that, all they can do is refer bills to committees. But lawmakers from both parties are likely to use the opening day to give speeches to their supporters.
Perry said he expects lawmakers to get their work done more quickly this time, making it harder for a filibuster to talk any proposed legislation to death.
House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the Senate, haven't revealed plans to do anything differently in the second special session -- but it's lost on no one that moving through the process faster, and ensuring both chambers carry out final votes long before the end of the session, will limit Democratic stall tactics and make any possible filibuster moot because too much time would be left.
The legislative process now starts over, with lawmakers filing bills, committees holding public hearings on each, then passing them to both full chambers to consider. That means reviving the proposals Davis and the protesters killed: banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requiring that the procedure be performed at ambulatory surgical centers, and mandating that doctors who perform abortions obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Only five out of 42 clinics qualify as ambulatory surgical centers and they are located only in major metropolitan areas. Dewhurst has acknowledged that the ultimate goal is to shutter abortion clinics.
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