Abortion Rights Activists Descend on Capitol

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Sen. Wendy Davis addresses the Stand with Texas Women Rally crowd at the State Capitol the first day of the 2nd special session.
Sen. Wendy Davis addresses the Stand with Texas Women Rally crowd at the State Capitol the first day of the 2nd special session.

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.

Lisa Edelstein, an actress known for roles on House and The West Wing, told the Tribune she had flown from New York on short notice to participate, because she wanted to send a message to the state's Republican leadership that "public opinion is widely different from the way they are behaving."

At the rally, Davis called on the Legislature to prioritize “good family planning and investing in honest, age-appropriate sex education” rather than regulating abortion as a means to limiting unwanted pregnancy in Texas. 

Davis also targeted Gov. Rick Perry, who over the weekend said Davis, a teen mother and daughter of a single mother, did not "learn from her mistakes."

"I was lucky enough to be able to make the choices in my life that I knew would work for me," she said. "And I don’t regret for one minute my decisions about my daughters, my education or my direction in life."

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?"

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards addresses the Stand With Texas Women rally at the Capitol on July 1, 2013.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, the chairman 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."

At the anti-abortion press conference, which was to be followed by a rally on Monday evening, eight women who had undergone the procedure and regretted it spoke about their attempts to rationalize their decisions and deal with physical consequences including hysterectomies and miscarriages.

Rhonda Arias had an abortion as a senior in college, “fearful about the prospects of becoming a single mother." She said she has never been the same. 

“I still have a bond with my unborn child,” she said. “The welfare of the mother is indelibly linked with her children.” 

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, who called the third point of order on Davis’ filibuster on Tuesday night, said she expected a “very thorough debate” during the second legislative session.

“Democracy was traded for mobocracy” on Tuesday night, Campbell said. “The question is not when does life begin, it’s what is the value of human life.”

Reeve Hamilton contributed to this report.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.    

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