Perry, Texas GOP revive abortion limits fight
By WILL WEISSERT
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry is set to address a national convention of anti-abortion activists Thursday little more than a day after a special legislative session failed to approve sweeping restrictions to make abortion all but impossible for many women in the state.
The Republican leader has called a second special legislative session beginning July 1, allowing the GOP-controlled Texas statehouse another crack at passing the restrictions that opponents say could shutter nearly all abortion clinics in the country's second-largest state.
Perry's announcement came hours after the much-watched proposal failed in the face of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate that turned chaotic when Republicans used parliamentary rules to cut it short. The hubbub from jeering opponents of the proposal in the public gallery became so deafening that it halted all action on the floor.
Perry, who has said he'd like to make abortion at any stage of pregnancy a thing of the past in Texas, called the special session after lawmakers finished the regular session May 27. He didn't add the abortion measure to the issues to be discussed until late in the session.
The omnibus abortion measure passed the Texas House after nearly an entire night of heated debate Sunday, but the effort to get Senate approval before the session ended at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday failed.
Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth staged a filibuster for more than 11 hours. But when Republicans were able to silence her on a technicality minutes before midnight, hundreds of protesters raised such a ruckus that lawmakers were unable to hold a final vote until after the clock had run out.
The spectacle put the spotlight on Perry as he prepared to open the 43rd annual National Right to Life Convention in Dallas on Thursday.
His decision to call another special session gives lawmakers 30 more days to push the abortion restrictions - perhaps enough time to withstand Democratic stalling tactics. The governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, though lawmakers can only work on the agenda Perry sets.
In addition to a renewed abortion fight, Perry asked lawmakers to pass two pieces of legislation that also died with Davis' filibuster: funding for major transportation projects statewide, and approval of new, stricter sentencing guidelines for 17 year olds in capital murder cases.
"I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas," Perry said in a statement. "Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn."
The entire process starts over with lawmakers filing the bills that then undergo public hearings before being passed out of committee. Only then can they be considered by both chambers.
Supporters are likely to draft a measure similar to the one that nearly passed this week that sought a statewide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy - the point at which anti-abortion activists claim a fetus can feel pain. There is no scientific evidence to support that claim.
It also would have forced many clinics that perform abortions to upgrade their facilities to be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors would have been required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
If such a provision became law, it is possible only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics would remain in operation in a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long - and with 26 million people.
In a statement Wednesday night, Davis said that if her GOP colleagues intend "to keep pushing their extreme personal political agenda ahead of the interests of Texas families, I will not back off of my duty to fight on their behalf."
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said: "While yesterday was a great victory, we knew the fight was not over. And it's a fight we will win. The nation is watching and we will defeat this again."
But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the Texas Senate, said an extra session will let lawmakers "address the issues derailed by the actions of an angry mob."