Perry renews Texas abortion battle with special session

Perry renews Texas abortion battle with special session
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - 5:25pm

A day after a filibuster and a raucous crowd in the state Capitol killed plans for strict new regulations on abortion in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry says he's calling the state Legislature back to try again.

Perry said a new special session would convene July 1 to take up the abortion bill, which was declared dead before dawn Wednesday. The bill failed after a night of high drama in Austin, featuring a lone lawmaker who talked for 10 hours to run out the clock on a special session and spectators whose chants of "Shame, shame, shame" drowned out Republicans who tried to pass it in the final minutes before midnight.

"We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do," Perry said in a statement calling lawmakers back into another special session. he said Texans "value life and want to protect women and the unborn."

The announcement comes a day before Perry, who mounted an unsuccessful Republican presidential bid in 2012, addresses the National Right to Life convention in Dallas. And it comes on a day when abortion rights advocates had a new hero in state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Though Republicans control the state Senate, Davis tried to block the abortion bill by attempting a 13-hour filibuster Tuesday.

She fell short by about three hours when the chair ruled she had gone off topic. The packed gallery erupted in boos. Her fellow Democrats stalled for time with procedural tactics. And as the clock wound down, opponents of the bill drowned out proceedings on the floor, preventing lawmakers from completing a vote in time.

At 3 a.m., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped to the Senate floor to declare the bill dead and the special session over.

"There were attempts to shove every rule aside in order to try to cram this vote through, and the voices of the people who were in the Capitol gallery tonight could not be silenced, and it simply didn't allow the vote to be taken in time," Davis said early Wednesday.

The bill would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and tightened standards on abortion clinics and the doctors who work at them. Critics said the measure would have shut most of the abortion clinics in Texas, and Planned Parenthood cheered its defeat.

"This fight showed once again that we are all better off when women and their doctors -- not politicians -- are the ones making medical decisions," said Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "We made history tonight, but we know this isn't the end of the fight to protect women's access to health care in Texas."

Davis, 50, took to the floor of the chamber late Tuesday morning, wearing pink sneakers, to criticize the bill. Rules called for her to stand, unaided, until midnight, for the filibuster to succeed.

At the outset, Davis said she was speaking for families whose "personal relationships with their doctor and their creator" would be violated by the bill.

"These voices have been silenced by a governor who made blind partisanship and personal political ambition the official business of our great state," she said. "And sadly, he's being abetted by legislative leaders who either share this blind partisanship or simply do not have the strength to oppose it."

Davis had a snack and a small amount of water before beginning, her office said. She was not allowed to lean or take a bathroom break, and she was allowed three warnings before the Senate was to be allowed to vote on whether to stop the filibuster.

The senator spent much of the time reading testimony and messages from women decrying the bill and recounting stories of the struggles they, their friends or relatives faced in the days before birth control and abortion were legalized.

"Women realize that these bills will not protect their heath," she said. "They will only reduce their access to abortion providers and limit their ability to make their own family-planning decisions."

Her comments were ruled off topic early in the debate, for the first warning.

Later in the evening, a fellow senator helped Davis put on a back brace, which angered some lawmakers who said it violated filibuster rules. That view was upheld in a vote, and she was given a second warning.

About 10 p.m., Davis talked about the abortion pill, RU486, and the chairman ruled that her comments again were off topic.

But a member of the Senate then moved that the ruling be appealed, and the status of the ruling was in doubt.

The final hours of the session contained a confusing myriad of parliamentary maneuvers, until Sen. Leticia Van de Putte stepped to the microphone, effectively putting an end to the debate.

"At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?"

The gallery erupted in applause and chants of "Wendy, Wendy, Wendy" rang out during the last 15 minutes before midnight.

After the session ended, Davis waded into the crowd of supporters to praise them.

"So wonderful to come here at the end of a long, hard day and celebrate with the people who truly made this happen," she said.

The last stand

Davis' stand captivated abortion rights advocates from coast to coast, prompting the hashtag #standwithwendy on Twitter.

The White House took notice.

"Something special is happening in Austin tonight," said a post on President Barack Obama's official Twitter account. The account is run by Organizing for Action, a nonprofit group established to support the president's legislative agenda.

A post by Aimee Parker of Los Angeles said: "I'm in absolute awe of you, @WendyDavisTexas. Thank you for your passion, perseverance and unparalleled badassery."

English comedian Ricky Gervais weighed in as well.

"Whatever the outcome, @WendyDavisTexas efforts entered her into the pantheon of American heroes tonight."

Heady times for Davis, who was first elected to the Texas Senate in 2008, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent to do so.

Last year, she staged a filibuster to force a special session in an attempt to stop $5 billion in cuts to Texas public schools, according to her website.

Davis, who became a single mother at age 19, went on to graduate with honors from Harvard Law School, it says.

Her 10-hour filibuster was nowhere close to a record for the state. In 1977, Sen. Bill Meier staged a 43-hour marathon.

The special session ends with a bit of irony, Twitter user Cody Beckner said, echoing the governor's own words.

"'In Texas, we value all life,' Gov. Perry TX. Said on the eve of the state's 500th execution."

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