Texas Lamakers To Try Again To Pass Strict Anti-Abortion Bill
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Austin today, the Texas legislature goes back into session to take up, once again, a tough anti-abortion bill. This is the same bill that was derailed after a dramatic filibuster last week, when crowds of raucous abortion rights supporters disrupted the Senate chamber. The Republican leadership is eager now to quickly pass the bill and show they're in control.
NPR's John Burnett reports from Austin.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The cold logic of arithmetic is that the Texas Senate already had the votes to pass the anti-abortion bill. Then the gallery erupted, the Senate floor descended into chaos, and the clock ran out before the bill could be finalized.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Let her speak. Let her speak. Let her speak. Let her speak.
BURNETT: That will not be the case as the new 30-day special session gets underway today. Governor Rick Perry, a staunch Republican abortion foe, sent lawmakers back to the pink-granite capital to finish business.
But there's no question that abortion rights forces are fired up. They've scheduled a big rally at noon today on the capital steps. Heather Busby is executive director of NARAL Texas, a leading abortion rights group.
HEATHER BUSBY: What we saw Tuesday night is the people supporting the filibuster, and taking it on to midnight with a spontaneous outburst. So the challenge is to keep up this energy throughout this second session. I think people are very angry about what's going on, and they'll continue to show up.
BURNETT: Among the midnight protesters was Austin civic activist Mandy Dealey, who spent 16 hours at the capital that day and night. But the elation is fading as the second special session looms.
MANDY DEALEY: I think there will be an abortion bill. I don't have any great hope that it will be blocked again. But I do hope that there will be the opportunity for amendments that might soften it a bit and make it less onerous.
BURNETT: The omnibus abortion bill that will return would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks, instead of the normal 24 weeks. It would require abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities, and further regulate credentials for doctors. Abortion rights supporters say the new law would force most Texas abortion clinics to close.
The Tuesday night rumble in the Senate only deepened the acrimony surrounding an already controversial issue. Republicans are steaming, not just because Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst lost control of the proceedings, but by what they see as outrageous conduct by activists.
Texans for Life Coalition President Kyleen Wright told member station KERA she and other pro-lifers were in the crowd, too, but they were outnumbered.
KYLEEN WRIGHT: It was a scary mob. I mean, we hid in locked rooms in the basement...
WRIGHT: ...for awhile, yes, until there were enough troopers to take us out.
BURNETT: Republican State Senator Bob Duell is a co-sponsor of the abortion bill.
STATE SENATOR BOB DUELL: They suppressed our votes. I mean, I don't think the people in the gallery were representative of the people of Texas. You had the, look, the International Socialist Organization. You had the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
BURNETT: He predicted it would take about 12 days to get a new abortion bill through the House and the Senate and to the governor's desk, where Perry is waiting with pen in hand. The governor spoke last week at the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: We are under no obligation to make things easier for the abortionist.
BURNETT: If there's a winner in the abortion free-for-all in Texas, it's new superstar Senator Wendy Davis, who filibustered for 12 hours in her pink running shoes. The Harvard-trained lawyer from Fort Worth has seen her name recognition soar, and she's said to be considering a run for governor next year. Davis spoke on all three Sunday morning talk shows. Here she is NBC's "Meet the Press."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
STATE SENATOR WENDY DAVIS: I don't think that we'll concede that the battle is over. And even if this bill passes, obviously, there will be challenges to it going forward...
BURNETT: As Texas Democrats - who haven't won a statewide election since 1994 - they're wondering if Wendy Davis may be the chosen one they have long awaited.
John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
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