Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) vigorously defended controversial Texas abortion legislation Thursday, saying it would pass and the dramatic defeat of the bill Tuesday was “nothing more than the hijacking of the democratic process.”
“This is simply too important a cause to allow unruly actions of a few to stand in its way,” Governor Perry said at the opening session of the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas. The organization, which supports grass-roots opposition to abortion rights, had previously scheduled its annual national conference to be held in that city this week.
The abortion legislation had failed at the end of a special legislative session, and on Wednesday, Perry used his gubernatorial powers to call another special session, this one to begin July 1. Texas lawmakers will have 30 days to pass the bill – enough time, supporters hope, to avoid the stalling tactics that allowed Democrats to defeat the bill despite having fewer votes than Republicans.
“Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state,” Perry said in a statement Wednesday. "Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn."
Perry used his speech Thursday to warn lawmakers that he is fully committed to passing the controversial abortion bill, which drew national attention after a filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and a raucous crowd at the State Capitol defeated the bill in dramatic fashion.
"The louder they scream, the more we know we are getting something done," Perry said.
Senator Davis said in a statement Wednesday night 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."
Under Texas law, Perry can call as many special sessions as he chooses, and legislators can work only on the agenda the governor sets. Perry has a history of calling special sessions until his legislation is passed, Texas analysts say.
“I thought there was really no question that he would” call the new session, James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Texas Tribune. “He wasn’t going to relent on abortion legislation that he called them in to pass.”
A decade ago, Perry called repeated special sessions until redistricting legislation he supported passed. Democrats initially bolted town to prevent Republicans from reaching a quorum, but the legislation passed during the third session.
In addition to renewing the abortion debate, Perry asked lawmakers in the next special session to pass two pieces of legislation that also failed with Davis's filibuster: funding for major transportation projects statewide and new, stricter sentencing guidelines for 17-year-olds in capital murder cases. Democrats say they are not opposed to those measures.
During the special session, 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.
But legislators would be able to move the bills quickly, state Rep. Phil King (R) told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“All three of those bills ... are ready to go,” Representative King said. “We can pass them out of the committees very quickly. We just need to start over where we won’t be up against a quick deadline.”
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said in a statement Wednesday: "While [Tuesday] 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."
Supporters are expected to draft a measure similar to the one that nearly passed this week, which sought a statewide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The legislation also would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and mandated clinics that perform abortions to upgrade their facilities to be classified as ambulatory surgical centers.
Defenders of the bill argue that it would strengthen women’s health, while opponents say it would effectively close 37 of 42 clinics in the state and make it difficult for most women to have the procedure done legally.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.