Thousands of pro-choice activists rallied in front of the Texas Capitol on Monday as the legislature reconvened to vote on new abortion legislation that would be among the most restrictive in the US.
Lawmakers on Monday began a second 30-day session to reconsider Senate Bill 5 after a daylong Senate filibuster stopped its passage last week. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) stalled the measure, standing without food or water for hours as she spoke in support of abortion rights. Republicans were able to stop her filibuster and voted 19 to 10 to pass the bill, but screaming opponents prevented Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst from signing the bill and sending it to the governor before the midnight deadline.
The proposed bill would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and shut down most of the state’s clinics. Only five out of 42 clinics would be able to remain in operation, due to the bill’s provision that restricts the procedure to surgical centers.
After the filibuster and a raucous crowd effectively delayed the bill on June 25, Governor Rick Perry announced that he was calling lawmakers back for a second special session to reconsider the proposal.
“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 told CNN in a statement, adding that Texans “value life and want to protect women and the unborn.”
At last week’s “Right to Life” convention in Dallas, Perry further condemned the actions of Davis and her crowd of supporters, emphasizing his desire to get the bill passed.
“What we witnessed Tuesday was nothing more than the hijacking of the Democratic process,” he said. “And this is simply too important a cause to allow the unruly actions of a few to stand in its way.”
Jonathan Saenz, president of the pro-life group Texas Values, told Reuters that anti-abortion lawmakers will not put themselves in a position where they could run out of time for a vote this session. He believes that the bill’s passage is just around the corner.
“It seems as close to a sure thing as you can get,” he said. “As we saw during the first special session, until it’s completely done and the process is finished, there are no guarantees. That’s going to motivate both sides to do everything they can to ensure victory.”
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst told the Dallas Morning News that “we’re going to make sure that we’ve got plenty of time, and no human being can talk for two weeks.”
Meanwhile, demonstrators are gearing up for a rally at the state Capitol, which will feature a speech by Senator Davis. Pro-choice activists began filling the Capitol hours before the Senate was scheduled to reconvene, surrounded by more than 100 state police, some of which were in riot gear.
“A fuse has been lit in Austin, and there is growing opposition across the state to these attacks that endanger women’s health and safety,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Reuters.
More than 7,000 people confirmed that they were attending the rally on Facebook. The event will feature speeches by pro-choice lawmakers, activists, and celebrities.
“Texas women settled the prairies, built this state, raised our families,” Richards said in front of gathering protesters. “We survived hurricanes, we survived tornadoes, and we can survive Texas legislation.”