AUSTIN, Texas — A filibuster and a raucous crowd managed to delay approval of a Texas bill that will ban abortions past the 20-week "pain capable" mark, but abortion supporters’ victory promises to be short-lived.
On July 3, the Republican majority of the House State Affairs Committee voted to send the bill to the full Texas House for a vote the following week, The Associated Press reported.
Democrats on the House committee charged that debate had been improperly restricted when public testimony was cut off after eight hours, but the committee’s chairman, Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, countered that lawmakers had heard "a lot of testimony" already during the first special session.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry called a second session just hours after the vote standstill in Austin late on June 25.
That day, state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, became a national sensation when she launched a 10-hour-plus filibuster against the pro-life bill, attracting support even from President Barack Obama, who alluded to her efforts in a tweet.
When Davis was finally silenced due to technicalities shortly before a midnight voting deadline, abortion supporters in the chambers managed to make so much noise that the senators were unable to beat the clock in casting their votes.
"We needed just five minutes more," remarked Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life.
In addition to banning abortion past 20 weeks, the legislation also requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, mandates abortion facilities upgrade to standards of other surgical centers and better regulates medical abortions.
Abortion supporters have gloried in their success at forcing the delay, and the antics of the crowd have been dubbed by some supporters as a "people’s filibuster."
Wright, however, said she "totally dispute[s] that characterization."
"These people had been ginned up with lies and exaggerations about the effect of the legislation," she explained.
"They were angry and emotional. They had misbehaved previously at both House and Senate hearings and in the gallery during the House vote. This time, they were better behaved — we found an instruction note on the floor that had been passed out explaining the rules. Whenever people began to applaud or yell, others would hush them and urge them not to get themselves thrown out because it was important to be there to support Wendy."
However, she added, "It was only in the last hour or two, when there was no time and not enough troopers to clear them all, that they began to be so rowdy."
Arland Nichols, director of education and evangelization for Human Life International and a Texas resident, described the scene as "mob rule," saying it "made a mockery of the democratic process and rules of the Senate. It was really shameful and embarrassing, and it was initiated by a senator and fed by none other than [Planned Parenthood’s president] Cecile Richards, who egged the unruly crowd on by way of Twitter."
While Richards and Obama both used social media to "participate" in the debate far from Austin to mobilize pro-abortion support, local Catholic leaders also took advantage of these means to advance the pro-life side as the debate resumed in the state Legislature.
Jeffery Patterson, the executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, said social media has become "a crucial communications tool for us."
Noting the tremendous geographical area of Texas, Patterson said Twitter is key for regular communication with people coming from all over the state "to marshal our forces in a way that’s very effective. It gets our message across."
He also noted that the Twitter feed is a good way to see what opponents are saying — and then to rebut those statements with "the truth and with facts — with the Holy Spirit being able to counter those as the debate goes on. It’s really just broadened the entire conversation into real time over the public sphere, and I think it’s terrific."
The hashtag #standwithwendy, for example, that brought so much attention to the Austin debate is being countered with #stand4life.
Patterson also spoke specifically to claims about the pro-life legislation paving the way to shut down nearly all of Texas’ abortion businesses.
"It won’t shut down every abortion clinic in the state of Texas," he said.
"What it does is improve the standards of health and safety of these clinics and the abortionists providing care or abortion services."
"These clinics, which apparently are flying very close to the edge [in regard to health and safety]," he said, must be able to "provide services when an abortion goes wrong or is botched in some way — if they can’t provide that level of service, then they really shouldn’t be in business."
The clinics need "to be able to handle mistakes when they happen or complications when they occur," Patterson continued.
"I don’t think that’s asking too much. What it means, though, is that they may need to spend a little bit more money to bring themselves up to that standard, and that cuts into the Planned Parenthood business model."
Getting the Job Done
With a large pro-life majority in both the Senate and the House, as well as the support of the governor, there was little doubt the legislation would pass quickly.
"As we open the second special session," Perry said in a statement July 1, "we must remember the people of Texas hired us to do our job, and that’s what we must do."
Still, Wright and Nichols concurred in noting a need for a more visible pro-life stand, one that represents Texas’ pro-life majority.
The crowd’s behavior during the first session should not give an impression that Texas is a pro-abortion state, Nichols said.
"Remember that our capital is in Austin, which is arguably the most socially liberal city in the state and really not representative of our demographics," Nichols commented. "That said, pro-lifers were significantly outnumbered, and we were out-organized on this day [the first session]. But all throughout the state pro-life rallies typically draw far greater numbers than do those that support abortion."
Nichols described Texas as one of the "best in the nation" in opposing abortion, noting that the state recently defunded Planned Parenthood of tens of millions of dollars, "so we have much to be proud of. That said, there is a great deal of work to be accomplished. First is to secure passage of S.B. 5 during the special session. [...] The first reason to seek this victory — as always — is preserving the health and well-being of women and children."
Wright noted that a handful of Catholic Democrats were among those supporting the legislation, including state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville.
And as far as Davis is concerned, while talk has turned to a possible run for governor, Wright said she’s doubtful of that.
"They [abortion supporters] made her a star, which was goal No. 1, since they haven’t had one in ages who could win statewide," Wright said. "I still don’t think she can win statewide, though, because now she is too linked to Obama and Planned Parenthood."
Kathleen Naab writes from Houston,
where she covers news of the Church
as a coordinator for Zenit News Service.