After filibuster rivets nation, Texas fires up abortion battle again
HOUSTON — With sweeping abortion legislation poised to come before Texas lawmakers again this week, activists on both sides mobilized to bring protesters to the Capitol in Austin.
Last week’s confrontation in the state Senate led to a filibuster and a late-night vote that riveted the nation. Republicans initially said the measure had passed, but the Senate’s presiding officer, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, later conceded that the vote had occurred after the Legislature’s special session expired at midnight.
Gov. Rick Perry then called another 30-day special session to take up the bill, which would bar abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation and force abortion providers to upgrade or close, effectively limiting access to the procedure statewide, opponents say. The new session is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Monday.
New abortion legislation has already been resubmitted in the Legislature. The state House passed the measure during the previous special session, and Perry has said he will sign it.
The measure’s failure last week came in part because of raucous protests from the gallery, as well as the marathon filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat.
On Sunday, Davis insisted she would continue to fight the bill, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she had no plans to “concede the argument.”
“These are matters of personal liberty. In Texas, we hold very dear to intrusions against our personal liberty. We fight very hard against that. And we will fight as we begin the session again on Monday,” Davis said, adding, “Even if this bill passes, obviously there will be challenges to it going forward.”
Perry and Dewhurst were confident that the legislation would succeed this time.
“It will pass overwhelmingly and will become the law in the state,” Perry said in an interview Friday with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. “I think the voice of the people of Texas will be heard.”
Dewhurst told the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas on Saturday that those opposing a vote were driven by “hatred” and “mob rule,” as well as outside organizers from Occupy Wall Street, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and socialist groups. He called on antiabortion activists to fill Capitol hearings and galleries this week as their opponents have done, to make their voices heard via Facebook and the Twitter hashtag #stand4life.
“We will pass this bill,” Dewhurst said, insisting the legislation’s supporters are in the majority. “Texas is and will always be the most pro-life state in America.”
Dewhurst vowed to act quickly, but the legislation has to be sent back to a committee for public comment and consideration before it can again be put up for a vote on the floor, as it was last week, staffers said.
That process was expected to take at least a few days. With the Fourth of July looming, it was unclear whether the legislation would come up for a vote this week even if lawmakers worked through the holiday.
“The Texas legislative sessions don’t start with a sprint,” said Andrew Barlow, communications director for Dewhurst.
Barlow said officials intended to ensure that decorum would be maintained during this session.
Abortion rights activists, many of whom have been wearing orange, planned to hold a rally on the Capitol grounds at noon.
“People are super fired up all across the state,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “This is the grass roots leading this. Folks wanted to have a rally, and I think it’s a good kickoff to send a message to our leadership that this is a large number of Texans from across the state who don’t want these restrictions.”
Republican allegations that last week’s protests were driven by out-of-state organizers were “completely false,” she said.
“I know because I, a native Texan of many generations, was part of the organizing of this from the get-go. We’ve got sign-ups — we can prove we are Texans. Nobody from out of state was flown in. This was Texas — this was not just Austin. People drove up from the valley, from West Texas, up from Houston and the Gulf Coast,” she said.
Supporters of the legislation — who planned to wear blue — also called on activists to head to the Capitol to speak on the legislation when it comes up in committee.
“The committee hearings have not been scheduled but could be as early as Tuesday at 2 p.m.,” the Texas Alliance for Life posted on Facebook. “Please prepare a 3-minute testimony explaining how abortion has hurt you or someone you love. Bring your friends, family, and invite your church. Come prepared for a long night.”
Joe Pojman, the alliance’s executive director, said time would be on the legislation’s side, and he hoped more protesters would be too.
“Getting more people will make a difference,” he said. “It will be a more representative sample of how people feel in Texas, and procedurally more time is a benefit for us.”
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