DPS, Abortion Activists Preparing for Renewed Debate

Protesters outside the Texas Senate chamber cheer as Sen. Wendy Davis leaves on June 26, 2013.
Protesters outside the Texas Senate chamber cheer as Sen. Wendy Davis leaves on June 26, 2013.

Less than a week after their shouts and screams effectively derailed a vote on a restrictive new abortion law, reproductive rights advocates are already getting organized for the special session. But when proceedings begin anew on Monday, state leaders will be better prepared — and are working with state security to prevent further disruption.

Last week's half-day filibuster of Senate Bill 5 by state Sen. Wendy Davis, Fort Worth, drew national attention and hundreds of protesters to the Capitol, where the Senate gallery and rotunda became so full that at one point security was forced to shut three out of the building’s four public entrances.

The bill ultimately failed to pass by Tuesday night's midnight deadline because protesters screamed so loud that senators could not hear to vote. The unusual outburst drew a sharp rebuke from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who referred to the crowd as an unruly mob and has threatened action against those who incited them. 

Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers back into a second special session to try again, and protesters are getting organized for round two.

There is a "Stand With Texas Women" abortion rights rally at the Capitol on Monday at noon. As of Saturday morning, more than 4,300 people on Facebook had registered as attending, and Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said organizers had been in contact with the Texas Department of Public Safety to discuss security and safety concerns. 

Texas Alliance for Life and other abortion opponents are also gathering momentum online and using Facebook to encourage those who support the abortion restrictions to testify on the legislation. As of mid-day Saturday, more than 500 supporters had agreed to attend the Texas Alliance for Life’s event, which was scheduled broadly for Monday. 

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, has already filed a new bill for the special session — House Bill 2 — to regulate abortion procedures, providers and facilities. The bill text has not yet been posted online.

In the first special session, opponents of the omnibus abortion restriction bill were furious when the House State Affairs Committee ended public testimony before roughly 300 advocates could testify against the bill. This time, House and Senate leadership expect committees to take additional public testimony on the abortion restrictions. The committee chairs have the authority to determine the overall timeframe for public testimony and how much time will be allotted to each person who registers to testify.

Busby said she had heard that the House and Senate could close their galleries to the public when they debate the bills on the floor. But top aides from both chambers said they expect the galleries to remain open to the public. A Senate aide said DPS is also expected to strengthen security.

DPS spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the agency does not publicly comment on security plans. “When necessary, we will adjust our security measures as a situation merits," she said. 

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