Texas Governor Rick Perry called the state legislature back into session July 1 to give lawmakers another chance to pass a measure that may close most of the state’s abortion clinics.
The legislation died in a special session that ended late June 25 after a Democratic senator delayed consideration. Republican backers forced a vote approving the measure that was later ruled invalid because it came after the midnight conclusion of the session.
“Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn,” Perry, a Republican, said in a statement yesterday.
The measure that failed would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and require that they be performed in ambulatory surgical centers by doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 kilometers).
Most clinics would have to alter facilities to meet the requirements, which abortion-rights advocates say they can’t afford. Doctors at other clinics may struggle to win privileges.
Democrats might not be able to block the bill because of Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, said state Representative Jessica Farrar, a Democrat who helped lead opposition to the measure.
“We aren’t going to quit trying because this issue is so important to the health of women in Texas,” Farrar said.
More than 1,000 people favoring abortion rights gathered at the capitol in Austin to support Senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat, who spoke for more than 10 hours in a filibuster. Shouting from the gallery by spectators helped delay the final vote past the deadline, said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, a Republican. He likened the protesters to “an angry mob.”
Speaking today at a National Right to Life convention at a Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport hotel, Perry criticized Davis for trying to block abortion restrictions, saying she was the daughter of a single mother and became a teenage mother herself.
“It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential; that every life is precious,” Perry said.
Davis, 50, said on her website that she was the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Davis said in an e-mailed statement that the governor’s comment “is without dignity and tarnishes the office he holds.”
More abortion rights advocates will protest next week, said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Texas chapter in Austin. “If Rick Perry wanted to upset even more of the people of this state, he’s done exactly the right thing,” she said.
Anti-abortion groups are urging supporters to attend committee hearings and chamber debates during the special session, after few showed up during the past week, said Abby Johnson, legislative director for Americans United for Life, a Washington-based group that favors alternatives to abortion.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem getting the bill passed,” Johnson said. “We want to have a strong pro-life presence throughout the session.”
In the past three years, Republican-led states increasingly have restricted when and how women can end pregnancies. Twenty-week bans have been among the most popular, passing in at least 10 states since 2010. Some measures face legal challenges and haven’t taken effect.
In May, an Arizona law that made it a crime for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks was struck down by a federal appeals court. The ruling said the measure violated the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which granted the right to an abortion until a fetus is viable, typically considered about 24 weeks.
The Texas measure passed the House, but was stymied in the Senate by Davis’s filibuster. Republicans, who have a 19-12 Senate majority, eventually forced a vote. After some confusion, Republican leaders said the vote came after the midnight end of the special session and didn’t count.