Barely 12 hours after Democrats in the Texas Legislature, complete with a good helping of shouting from supporters in the State Senate chamber, managed to prevent tough new restrictions on abortion from passing in the final moments of a special session, Republican Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday afternoon called a second special session to begin on Monday, and ordered that the same abortion restrictions be part of the agenda, 1200 WOAI news reports.
"Too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas,” Perry said in calling the 30 day session. “Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state. Texans value life and want to protect woman and the unborn.”
Under Texas law, only the governor can call the Legislature into special session, and only items selected by the governor can be on a special session agenda. Since the regular session is limited to 140 days every other year, this gives the Texas governor extraordinary power to set political priorities.
A more than ten hour filibuster by State Sen. Wendy Davis, denying majority Republicans the right to call for a vote on the bill, was followed by a 19-10 largely party line vote to approve the measure, which pro-choice groups claim would force all but five of the abortion clinics in this vast state to close.
But after Democrats pointed out that the vote was not completed until after midnight Wednesday, meaning the special session had come to a close; Republicans grudgingly acknowledged that the bill did not pass. All the time, several hundred pro-choice activists shouted and jeered from the visitors’ gallery, prompting Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, to denounce what he called “an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics.”
The bill would require that all abortion clinics be staffed by a physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, would require abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, and would ban all abortions after 20 months gestation, on the argument that after that point the fetus can feel pain in the womb, a claim disputed by pro-choice groups.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told 1200 WOAI news his party now has the momentum, something which has been uncommon in a state where Republicans hold clear majorities in both Houses of the Legislature and the GOP holds all statewide elected offices.
“The people have made exceedingly clear that they don’t support Governor Perry’s attack on women,” Hinojosa said. “We are ready to fight, and fight we will, while only further highlighting how out of touch Perry is with the majority of Texans.”
Liberal groups, long marginalized in the nation’s largest ‘red state,’ wasted no time seizing the initiative.
“Rick Perry is more concerned with feeding his own political ambitions, even if that means dictating to millions of Texans what they can and cannot do in the most private aspects of their lives,” said Matt Angle, head of the progressive activist group The Lone Star Project.
“We are ready to fight,” Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Tanene Allison said, promising more ‘creative tactics’ to thwart the abortion bill in the coming special session.
Regardless of the outcome of the abortion battle, Texas Democrats feel they have found in the 50 year old Davis, a one-time single mom living in a trailer park who graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, the charismatic leader who can reverse twenty years of uninspiring candidates, botched campaigns, and lost opportunities to regain political power in Texas.
Austin Democratic strategist Jason Stanford compared Davis, who did not respond to a call and an e-mail seeking comment, to Ann Richards, the near legendary governor who was seen by many as an inspirational figure during her one term in the early 1990s.
Stanford pointed out that even President Obama tweeted his support for Davis during her filibuster, writing that ‘something special is happening in Austin.’
“One image which is going to stick with women of both political parties,” Stanford said. “Is the image of a petite woman standing up to a group of men who wanted to shut her up and dictate what rights women should have.”