Opponents of Republican-backed legislation to dramatically curtail abortion rights in Texas descended on the Capitol by the thousands on Monday, spurred on by musicians, celebrities and their new hero: filibustering state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
Meanwhile, about 100 supporters of the omnibus abortion legislation marched to the Capitol on Monday morning to a press conference orchestrated by women who deeply regretted their decision to have an abortion.
The abortion rights rally drew a crowd that organizers estimated to be roughly 5,000 people and featured performances by Bright Light Social Hour — the band introduced a new song with one word, “Wendy” — and singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.
Other Democratic politicians on hand were received by the crowd like rock stars, something to which they are not accustomed in the Republican-dominated Legislature. “This is the beginning of something that Democrats and the Democratic party have been missing for at least 10 years,” state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told the Tribune.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called on the crowd to continue opposing the anti-abortion bills, which have been introduced this session as House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 1.
“We’ve been shut down and told to shut up,” she said, adding, “My question is, Can you hear us now?”
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, acknowledged to the Tribune that defeating the bills would be difficult. “They have the numbers and the clock on their side,” he said of the Republicans. “All we can do is fight like hell every day, and that’s what we intend to do.”
Stace has more on SB1, and BOR has more on HB2. Several other bills have been filed as well – Nonesequiteuse has a list. BOR has a nice liveblog of the event, and if your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts are anything like mine, you likely couldn’t fail to see a ton of updates and awesome photo many times.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said that if an attempt to filibuster the omnibus abortion bill, now filed as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2 in the second special session, he immediately will rise to stop it.
“I plan to stop Sen. Davis or any Democrat from attempting, for the second time, to slow down or kill our package of pro-life legislation,” Patrick said. “Sen. Davis and the mob had their say last week, it’s time to pass this bill and I intend to do all I can to do so. It’s time the pro-life community had their voice heard.”
Last Tuesday, Patrick gathered the 16 votes he needed to pass a motion to “call the previous question,” a procedure which would have ended the historic filibuster of then-Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. He said he tried several times to get Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to take the action, but “the Lt. Governor said he was not ready to do so,” according to a statement from Patrick’s office.
Dewhurst wanted to wait until 10:30 p.m., but at that point Senate democrats brought up other questions that had to be answered first, thus stalling the bill further. The time the issues were resolved by 11:45 p.m., Patrick’s statement read, but “the Lt. Governor seemed confused at that point in all of the noise and did not attempt to call the vote on the bill until it was too late.”
Because the vote wasn’t registered in the presence of the Senate, as required, it wasn’t passed, and a second special session that started Monday was called, with abortion being one of three issues up for discussion. Patrick said last week’s events won’t be repeated.
“The Lt. Governor should recognize me or another member who rises to call the question,” the statement said. “He gave the Senator in the pink tennis shoes 12 hours to speak last Tuesday. It’s time he gave me or another conservative pro-life Republican a few minutes to move the question and pass the bill.”
Yes, Danny, we know, it’s all about you and your campaign. If David Dewhurst had any cojones, he’d ignore you for the fun of seeing you sputter. And I’m sure you’d never be caught dead wearing anything pink.
We all know how this is going to end, sooner or later. What matters in the end is this.
According to our most recent polling on this question, a plurality of Texas voters, 36 percent, think that a woman should be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice. But more important for the context of SB 5 and the arguments being levied against it for drastically decreasing access, only 16 percent of respondents believe that abortion should never be permitted — a number consistent with national findings using the same question wording.
Taken together, these polling numbers convey broad support for some specific restrictions focusing on procedures. We don’t find more than token support for drastically reducing or eliminating access. In June 2013, 79 percent of Texans indicated that abortion should be available to a woman under varying circumstances. As for Davis’ core constituency, 59 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of liberals think that it should always be legal and available. As for the GOP: 20 percent of female Republicans think that abortion should always be legal, compared with 11 percent of male Republicans. But maybe more important for future electoral fortunes, there exists a 19-point gap among female and male independents regarding the opinion that abortion should always be available, 41 percent to 22 percent; and one of the most supportive groups of all is suburban women, 45 percent of whom think the procedure should always be legal.
Much of the attention this week has been on the short-term effects — Davis’ rising star, the embarrassment of the Senate devolving into chaos, the attempts to frame the whole event as an instance of “mob rule,” the sense of triumph among the activists who helped force the errors on the Senate floor at the crucial moment and so much else that arose from the five-star political theater Tuesday night. These factors notwithstanding, in the near term, the derailing of SB 5 will likely be rendered a pyrrhic victory in the second special session.
In the longer run, the key question is whether the symbolism of Tuesday’s events will have an impact on the state of Republican hegemony in Texas by stirring up a more potent political alternative. Polling numbers show that the anti-SB 5 mobilization expressed attitudes and feelings rooted in a wide swath of public opinion. Whatever one thinks of their manners in the Senate gallery, the orange-shirted guests were a group of engaged Texans echoing the sentiments of many others, as we know from both the UT/TT polling and the viral response on Twitter and other media.
Whether Tuesday’s events mark a watershed or merely another episode in Texas’ colorful political history will depend on whether a meaningful political alternative to the Texas GOP can capitalize on the symbolic significance of Tuesday’s history-making events and their foundation in public opinion on abortion. This may sound a little conventional, but it’s not out of the question that the symbolism of derailing SB 5, however fleeting the victory, might be the kind of old-school political event that contributes to making Texas politics less a Republican bailiwick and more of a battleground.
In other words, don’t forget about what happens here between now and next November, and remember that we should be the ones making an issue out of this. The Republicans are pushing something the people haven’t asked for and don’t particularly want. It’s on us to make them pay for that. Until then, both chambers stand in recess, though the House State Affairs Committee meets this afternoon, with testimony cut off at midnight as noted above. Texas Leftist, Juanita, Texas Vox, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.
UPDATE: Stace reports from the Houston event last night.