Texas Abortion Bill Falls After Challenge

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email
Texas Republicans have passed new abortion restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in the nation

The 'pink sneaks' made famous by Texas Senator, Wendy Davis in her filibuster attempt. (CBS News)

Associated Press Release

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Despite barely beating a midnight deadline, hundreds of jeering protesters helped stop Texas lawmakers from passing one of the toughest abortion measures in the country.

As the protesters raised the noise to deafening levels in the Texas Senate chamber late Tuesday, Republicans scrambled to gather their colleagues at the podium for a stroke-of-midnight vote.

"Get them out!" Sen. Donna Campbell shouted to a security guard, pointing to the thundering crowd in the gallery overhead that had already been screaming for more than 10 minutes.

"Time is running out," Campbell pleaded. "I want them out of here!"

It didn't work. The noise never stopped and despite barely beating the midnight end-of-session deadline with a vote to pass the bill, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the chaos in the chamber prevented him from formally signing it before the deadline passed, effectively killing it.

Dewhurst denounced the protesters as an "unruly mob." Democrats who urged them on called the outburst democracy in action.

In either point of view, a raucous crowd of chanting, singing, shouting demonstrators effectively took over the Texas Capitol and blocked a bill that abortion rights groups warned would close most abortion clinics in the state.

"They were asking for their voices to be heard," said Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who spent nearly 11 hours trying to filibuster the bill before the outburst. "The results speak for themselves."

The final outcome took several hours to sort out.

Initially, Republicans insisted the vote started before the midnight deadline and passed the bill that Democrats spent the day trying to kill. But after official computer records and printouts of the voting record showed the vote took place Wednesday, and then were changed to read Tuesday, senators retreated into a private meeting to reach a conclusion.

At 3 a.m., Dewhurst emerged from the meeting still insisting the 19-10 vote was in time, but said, "with all the ruckus and noise going on, I couldn't sign the bill" and declared it dead.

He denounced the more than 400 protesters who staged what they called "a people's filibuster" from 11:45 p.m. to well past midnight. He denied mishandling the debate.

"I didn't lose control (of the chamber). We had an unruly mob," Dewhurst said. He even hinted that Gov. Rick Perry may immediately call another 30-day special session, adding: "It's over. It's been fun. But see you soon."

Many of the protesters had flocked to the normally quiet Capitol to support Davis, who gained national attention and a mention from President Barack Obama's campaign Twitter account. Her Twitter following went from 1,200 in the morning to more than 20,000 by Tuesday night.

"My back hurts. I don't have a lot of words left," Davis said when it was over and she was showered with cheers by activists who stayed at the Capitol to see her. "It shows the determination and spirit of Texas women."

Davis' mission was cut short but her effort ultimately helped Democrats earn a rare victory in a Legislature dominated by Republicans for more than a decade.

"It's a bad bill," said Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, leader of the Senate Democrats.

The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Also, doctors would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles -- a tall order in rural communities.

If signed into law, the measures would have closed almost every abortion clinic in Texas, a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long with 26 million people. A woman living along the Mexico border or in West Texas would have to drive hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion if the law passed. The law's provision that abortions be performed at surgical centers means only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics are currently designated to remain in operation.

Republicans and anti-abortion groups insisted their goal was to improve women's health care, but also acknowledged wanting clinics to close.

"If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas governor Ann Richards.

The showdown came after Davis had slogged her way through about 11 hours of speaking while Senate Republicans -- and several House members -- watched and listened for any slipup that would allow them to end the filibuster and call a vote.

Democrats chose Davis, of Fort Worth, to lead the effort because of her background; she had her first child as a teenager and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

Rules stipulated she remain standing, not lean on her desk or take any breaks -- even for meals or to use the bathroom. But she also was required to stay on topic, and Republicans pointed out a mistake and later protested again when another lawmaker helped her with a back brace.

Lawmakers can vote to end a filibuster after three sustained points of order. As tension mounted over Davis' speech and the dwindling clock, Campbell, a first-term lawmaker from New Braunfels, made the call on the third violation, sparking nearly two hours of debate on how to handle it.

After much back and forth and senators shouting over each other, the Republican majority forced a vote to end the filibuster minutes before midnight, sparking the raucous response from protesters.

Senate security and several Department of Public Safety state troopers tried to quiet the crowd but were simply outnumbered and had no hope of stopping the outburst.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, blamed the confusion surrounding the final vote on the demonstrators and Democratic senators who urged them on.

"Had that not happened, everyone would have known," what was happening, Patrick said.

Standing next to him was Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a Democrat.

"This is democracy," Hinojosa said. "They have a right to speak."

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Senate Bill 5: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/history.aspx?LegSess=831&Bill=SB5
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Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cltomlinson


Associated Press Release

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas Republicans have passed new abortion restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in the nation's second most populous state.

The Republican-controlled House voted for the bill while hundreds of protesters screamed from the gallery. Reporters and Democrats saw the voting begin after midnight, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said it began just before.

Texas' special legislative session ended at midnight, and Democrats spent most of the day filibustering the bill. Republicans cited rules to eventually force a vote to end the filibuster.

The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires that all procedures take place in a surgical center.

Doctors who perform abortions would also need admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The surgical center requirement would shut down 37 of Texas' 42 abortion clinics.


Associated Press Release

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas' lieutenant governor late Tuesday suspended a female senator's marathon speech aimed at blocking a vote on wide-ranging abortion restrictions, but Democrats moved quickly to appeal the decision.

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst halted the speech after determining that Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis had strayed off the topic when she talked about a sonogram bill passed in 2011 and how the new abortion restrictions only compounded the anti-abortion laws in Texas.

Democrats immediately appealed the decision and set off a heated debate over parliamentary rules.

Wearing pink tennis shoes to prepare for nearly 13 consecutive hours of standing, Davis began the day by launching into a one-woman filibuster -- the use of long speeches to obstruct the passage of legislation -- in an effort to block a Republican-led effort to impose stringent new abortion restrictions across the nation's second-most populous state.

Davis began her speech at 11:18 a.m. CDT (1618 GMT)Tuesday and continued until 10:03 p.m., less than two hours before the midnight deadline marking the end of the state legislature's 30-day special session of the Texas state legislature.

Rules stipulate that Davis remain standing, not lean on her desk or take any breaks -- even for meals or to use the bathroom. But she must also stay on topic, and Republicans pointed out a mistake and later protested again when another lawmaker helped her with a back brace.

A Republican senator called the third point of order because of Davis' remarks on the sonogram law. Under the rules, lawmakers can vote to end a filibuster after three sustained points of order.

If signed into law, the measures would close almost every abortion clinic in Texas, a state 773 miles (1,244 kilometers) wide and 790 miles (1,271 kilometers) long with 26 million people. A woman living along the Mexico border or in West Texas would have to drive hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion if the law passes.

In her opening remarks, Davis said she wanted to "to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans" and called Republican efforts to pass the bill a "raw abuse of power."

Democrats chose Davis to lead the effort because of her background as a woman who had her first child as a teenager and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

In the hallway outside the Senate chamber, hundreds of women stood in line, waiting for people in the gallery to give up their seats. Women's rights supporters wore orange T-shirts to show their support for Davis, and Dewhurst reminded those in the gallery that interrupting the proceedings could result in 48 hours in jail.

Davis, tried to stay comfortable and sharp by shifting her weight from hip to hip and slowly walking around her desk while reading notes from a large binder on her desk. When a male protester stood in the Senate gallery and shouted, "Abortion is genocide," Davis continued talking uninterrupted as the man was removed by security.

Twice in the first six hours, anti-abortion lawmakers questioned Davis about the bill, presenting their arguments that it would protect women or that abortions were wrong. Davis answered their questions but did not give up control of the floor.

Davis read testimony from women and doctors who would be impacted by the changes, but who were denied the opportunity to speak in a Republican-controlled committee. During one heart-wrenching story describing a woman's difficult pregnancy, Davis choked up several times and wiped tears.

Texas is one of several states taking aim at the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973 that made abortion legal and set off a raging debate on the issue that continues today.

North Dakota is another, and abortion rights advocates on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging two new laws there that impose the nation's toughest abortion restrictions. The lawsuit seeks to block a measure that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected.

The Texas bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Also, doctors would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 kilometers) -- a tall order in rural communities.

"If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Democratic Texas governor Ann Richards.

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Senate Bill 5: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/history.aspx?LegSess=831&Bill=SB5


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