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After the Rally, What’s Next for Texas Legislature's Abortion Debate

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Texas lawmakers are back in Austin for a second special legislative session. The first one ended last week with protests and a late night filibuster to block abortion legislation. And the short time off between sessions has only galvanized activists on both sides of the issue.

The sides in this debate were already clearly marked. But with dueling, simultaneous events Monday on different sides of the Texas Capitol, the groups decided to color coordinate, just to make sure no one wandered into the wrong demonstration.

Anti-abortion groups chose blue. Abortion rights advocates picked orange. But beyond the colors, the two protests had several similar traits.

First, let’s run down the anti-abortion rally. The event, which included a press conference inside the Capitol, was marked on Twitter with #stand4life. And it had a political fire-brand, Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), ready to fight for the cause in the second special session.

"And you hear the rhetoric about the government doesn’t need to be in this. I am thankful I am a voice within the government to stand for life and to stand with you," Campbell said.

There was even some music. The group sang Amazing Grace as the hundred or so supporters filed somberly into the Texas Capitol.

The music at the abortion rights rally was a little louder.

Austin band The Bright Light Social Hour warmed up the crowd of estimated at about 6,000 by DPS officers. That led to a performance by Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks fame, singing her protest anthem, Not Ready to Make Nice. That led to this rally’s political firebrand, overnight filibuster sensation, Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth)

“For years too many Texas politicians have tried to boost their careers by bullying women who need help with their health care. They have messed with the way Texas women can get cancer screenings or birth control or even pre-natal care," Davis said.

Republicans were caught off guard during the first special session. This time around, Republicans know what to expect and are planning accordingly. Representative Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) chairs the House State Affairs Committee. His last hearing on the bill lasted until 3 in the morning. That won’t happen this time when his committee takes up the bill Tuesday afternoon at 3:30.

“We will finish on time certain at midnight. We will take testimony from, all that we can take testimony up until 12 o’clock. And at 12 o’clock we will end the public testimony on the bill," Cook told the House Monday afternoon.

The Senate was also surprised by the loud protests as the clock neared midnight at the end of last week’s filibuster and debate on the abortion bill. This time around, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst told the Senators there will be extra law enforcement and a shorter trigger to remove any and all who disrupt Senate business.

“It’s my hope that all of our visitors to the Capitol will follow our requests for decorum. If they are unable to, then we would have to clear the gallery to proceed," Dewhurst told the Senate Monday.

All these moves, along with an extra 30 work days, are expected to allow Republicans relatively easy passage of the abortion bills. Democrats have used almost all of their procedural maneuvers to slow or block passage.

“Right now we would think that the votes are there. And certainly the timing is in a different place then it was last session. But I think we ought to let the process work out and see where it goes," Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said.

The first step is Tuesday's House hearing on the bill, with votes waiting until next week at the earliest, when both the House and Senate reconvene after taking a week off.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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