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Rick Perry Calls Second Special Session on Abortion Restrictions

After a marathon filibuster to defeat an extreme anti-abortion bill, Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) has called a second special session in an attempt to pass the anti-choice legislation of Senate Bill 5.

Beginning at 11:18 am CST on Tuesday, Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) talked about the dangers of Senate Bill 5, read testimony from women and others who opposed the bill, speaking of her own experience at Planned Parenthood, and discussing the changes the bill had experienced. During the filibuster, Davis was not permitted to go off-topic, sit down, break for eating or to use the restroom, or even lean on her desk. Davis successfully continued her filibuster until 10:00 pm local time when supporters of the bill challenged her saying that she had violated procedural rules. The challenge prompted a two hour debate on the procedural rules of the filibuster and whether Davis has violated any portion of them. Initially, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (R) who is a supporter of the bill, announced that it had passed in a vote of 17 to 12 when the vote was taken at 11:45 pm that night. Opponents decried the vote, saying that was taken after midnight and therefore invalid. At 3:00 am, Dewhurst announced that though the bill had passed, the final votes were cast after midnight making the vote moot.

On Wednesday, Governor Rick Perry released a press release announcing a new special session to begin July 1 specifically to readdress Senate Bill 5. In his statement, Perry said "I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas. 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 women and the unborn... 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." During a special session, the Legislature can only address the legislation chosen by the governor. Other issues Perry has ordered they discuss relate transportation funding and sentencing of capital offenses for 17 year olds.

Davis responded to the announcement by committing to do whatever it takes to defeat the bill. She told local reporters, "They may roll over us. They probably will, but they underestimate the consequences of doing so... Obviously we're still going to fight with every fiber that we have."

Hundreds of protesters packed into the Capitol opposing the bill and supporting Davis in her filibuster. When Davis' filibuster was challenged, chants of "Let Her Speak" and "Shame" caused chaos in the hearing room. The chants continued when the final vote on the bill was taken at 11:45pm, making it difficult to count votes. Dewhurst attributed the late vote to an "unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics."

Senator Davis applauded the efforts of protesters to make their voices heard. "What I think this has done is empowered people to understand, when they involve themselves in a democracy, they truly can make a difference and they made the difference in the Texas capitol yesterday, and I think this will linger," Davis said on Anderson Cooper 360. "I think even if this bill passes [in the next] special session, the reaction to it won't be a partisan one. It's a reaction coming from Republicans, independents and Democrats alike which is saying, 'Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, stay out of my private decision-making.'"

The measure, Senate Bill 5, would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and require abortions clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, even if only nonsurgical procedures, or medication abortions, are being done. It would also require the doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. If passed, the bill threatens to close 37 out of the 42 abortion clinics in the state of Texas.

Media Resources: Politico 6/27/2013; Office of Governor Rick Perry 6/26/2013; Reuters 6/26/2013; Feminist Newswire 6/26/2013

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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