Gov. Rick Perry is set to address a national convention of anti-abortion activists - and now he's made sure he can give them something to cheer about.
Gov. Rick Perry is set to address a national convention of anti-abortion activists – and now he’s made sure he can give them something to cheer about.
The Republican leader has called a second special legislative session beginning July 1, allowing the GOP-controlled statehouse another crack at passing restrictions that opponents say could shutter nearly all of the abortion clinics across the country’s second-largest state.
Perry’s announcement came mere hours after the much-watched proposal failed in the face of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate that turned chaotic when Republicans used parliamentary rules to cut it short. Jeering abortion-rights protesters looking on from the public gallery became so deafening that it halted all action on the floor.
Perry, who has said he’d like to make abortion at any stage of pregnancy a thing of the past in Texas, called the special session after lawmakers finished the regular session May 27, but didn’t add the abortion measure to the issues to be discussed until late in the session.
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The omnibus abortion measure passed the Texas House after nearly an entire night of heated debate Sunday, but the effort to get Senate approval before the session ended at midnight Tuesday failed.
Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth staged a filibuster for more than 11 hours. But when Republicans were able to silence her on a technicality minutes before midnight, hundreds of protesters clad in orange raised such a ruckus that lawmakers were unable to hold a final vote until after the clock had run out.
The spectacle drew national attention and put the spotlight on Perry as he prepares to open the 43rd annual National Right to Life Convention in Dallas on Thursday.
His decision to call another special session gives lawmakers 30 more days to push the abortion restrictions and likely enough time to withstand Democratic stalling tactics. The governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, though lawmakers can only work on the agenda Perry sets.
In addition to a renewed abortion fight, Perry asked lawmakers to pass two pieces of legislation that also died with Davis’ filibuster: funding for major transportation projects statewide, and approval of new, stricter sentencing guidelines for 17 year olds in capital murder cases.
“I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas,” Perry said in a statement. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn.”
The entire process starts over, with bills that must be filed by lawmakers, undergo public hearings and be passed out of committee before they can be considered by both chambers.
Still, supporters are likely to draft a measure similar to the one that nearly passed during the first special session. It sought a statewide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which anti-abortion activists claim a fetus can feel pain – despite a lack of scientific evidence to support that.
It also would have forced many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities to be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors would have been required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
If such a provision became law, it is possible only 5 of Texas’ 42 current abortion clinics would remain in operation in a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long – and with 26 million people.
In a statement Wednesday night, Davis said that if her GOP colleagues intend “to keep pushing their extreme personal political agenda ahead of the interests of Texas families, I will not back off of my duty to fight on their behalf.”
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said, “While yesterday was a great victory, we knew the fight was not over. And it’s a fight we will win. The nation is watching and we will defeat this again.”
But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the Texas Senate, said an extra session will let lawmakers “address the issues derailed by the actions of an angry mob.”