Thousands of Texans on both sides of the abortion divide will descend on the state capitol in Austin on Monday, at the start of a special legislative session designed to pass a bill that would sharply restrict abortion services in the state.
More than 5,000 people have signed up to a “Stand With Texas Women” rally, to be staged at noon on the steps of the Capitol. The rally is being billed as a continuation of the dramatic scenes last week, when 400 pro-choice advocates staged a loud protest in the state senate chamber following Wendy Davis’s epic 10-hour filibuster that blocked the controversial bill, SB 5.
Anti-abortionists will stage their own rally in support of the new legislative session that the Texas governor, Rick Perry, called shortly after Davis’s filibuster ended. Some 700 pro-life campaigners have signed up to the rally called by Texas Alliance for Life.
Though emotions are running high even before the new special session begins, there is unlikely to be a quick resolution to the bitter dispute as the Texas assembly will need time to reprocess a revised bill. That bill, reconfigured as House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 9, has already been filed in the assembly but its text has yet to be made public. The terms of the revised bill are likely to be the same in all important points as the one that fell last week. It will limit abortion to 20 weeks, force the mothballing of at least 37 out of the state’s 42 active abortion clinics, and make it more difficult for doctors to operate.
Once the new bill has been presented to the special session, further delays are likely as committees of both the Texas House and Senate wade through its small print. In the first special session, Texas political leaders were criticized for giving insufficient time for committee debate.
However long it takes, Republican strategists are unlikely to wait so long in the 30-day session that they open up the threat of another filibuster. In the first session, other business crowded out SB 5 until the final day, allowing Davis to make her historic intervention.
On Sunday, she told This Week on ABC television that she did not expect that proponents of the abortion clamp-down would afford her the same opportunity. “I don’t know if we are going to have that opportunity again,” she said, “but I tell you this, we are up for the fight.”
She refused to say that passage of the bill was now inevitable. “I’m an eternal optimist. I believe in people, I believe in the power of democracy, and I am going to fight with every fibre I have to keep it from passing.”
In the course of almost 11 hours of filibuster, Davis was required to speak in the chamber without pause, standing and without leaning on anything. Her extraordinary endurance propelled her into the national political limelight, and sent the pair of training shoes she wore rocketing up the sales charts.
Asked by the Associated Press whether her instant fame had led her to think about higher political office – there has been speculation she could run against Perry for the governor’s mansion or attempt to gain a Texas seat in the US senate – she demurred. Davis said: “When we get through it, and I can lift my head up, and I’m back in my district with my constituents, I will have more time to think about that.”
[“Stock photo: The Texas Capitol building,” via Shutterstock.]