Texas abortion fight to reignite in second special session

An anti-abortion activist at the 40th annual March For Life anti-abortion protest. Credit: Getty Images
An anti-abortion activist at the 40th annual March For Life anti-abortion protest.
Credit: Getty Images

When the Texas Legislature convenes on Monday for a second special session, the Republican majority will seek to do what it couldn’t pull off in the first, when Democrat Wendy Davis stalled the measure for hours: Pass sweeping abortion restrictions.

Opponents who crowded the State Capitol last week are vowing to continue their fight, but supporters of the proposal that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy have more time to pass it than they did in the first special session, when lawmakers focused initially on a redistricting issue.

This time, anti-abortion lawmakers won’t put themselves in a position in which time is about to run out, said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, which advocates for anti-abortion policies and other conservative causes.

“It seems as close to a sure thing as you can get,” Saenz said of the bill’s passage. But he added: “As we saw during the first special session, until it’s completely done and the process is finished, there are no guarantees. That’s going to motivate both sides to do everything they can to ensure victory.”

Davis, who gained national attention after she filibustered for more than 10 hours to block the measure, said Sunday that she and other opponents are prepared to fight the bill again.

“I just refuse to say I believe it will happen,” she said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I’m an eternal optimist. I believe in people; I believe in the power of democracy. And I’m going to fight with every fiber I have to keep it from passing.”

Republicans managed to stop Davis’ filibuster last Tuesday night and voted 19 to 10 to pass the bill. But hundreds of bill opponents screamed from the gallery as senators were voting, a disruption that helped keep Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst from being able to sign the bill and send it to the governor in time.

Bill opponents are planning a rally at the Capitol on Monday.

“A fuse has been lit in Austin, and there is growing opposition across the state to these attacks that endanger women’s health and safety,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The proposal would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and require stricter standards for abortion clinics that opponents say would shut down most of the state’s clinics. Supporters say the measure is necessary to protect women’s health and to keep fetuses from feeling pain.

“If the abortion industry decides that the expense of running clean, safe facilities outweighs the money that they can make, that’s entirely their call,” Republican Governor Rick Perry told the National Right to Life convention in Dallas last week.

Perry vowed that the state will pass the measure this time. He also said Davis had not learned from her own experience as a teenage mother and the daughter of a single mother.

The governor sets the agenda for special sessions, which can last up to 30 days. The Texas Legislature typically meets every other year for 140 days, and lawmakers wrapped up their regular session on May 27.

Perry called lawmakers back for the first special session that same day, but he didn’t add abortion legislation to the agenda until June 11. The House passed the abortion measure, and the Senate passed a version without the 20-week ban. The Senate was considering a version with the ban when the clock ran out.

For the special session that begins Monday, abortion is already on the agenda. If it passes, Texas could become the 13th U.S. state to pass a 20-week ban.

 



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