Pro-choice and pro-life advocates in Central Texas are reacting to the events surrounding defeat of a controversial state Senate bill, which would have closed nearly every abortion clinic in the state.
Attempts by senators to vote on the bill, known as Senate Bill 5, failed after a nearly 11 hour-long filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and protesting, chanting and jeering from a large crowd gathered in the Senate chamber’s gallery. The events prevented the bill’s passage, which could not be finalized before the midnight deadline.
If passed, the law would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities to be classified as “ambulatory surgical centers,” and required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
Under those requirements, only five of the state’s 42 clinics would currently be qualified to stay open.
“This bill was back-door abortion ban, plain and simple,” said Natalie Kelinske, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “It did nothing to improve the health or safety of women in Texas.”
After the bill was effectively killed in the early morning hours Wednesday, pro-choice advocates lauded Davis’ filibuster, and characterized the actions of the crowd in the gallery as a show of solidarity and democracy in action.
“The people spoke loud and clear all week,” Kelinske said. “Politicians need to know that the eyes of women in Texas are watching, and that they cannot pass these kinds of dangerous bills.”
Those on the other side of the issue have taken a different perspective on the bill and the events surrounding its failure in the Legislature.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst characterized the crowd in the gallery as an “unruly mob” that created chaos in the Senate chamber and prevented him from signing the bill.
State Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen, expressed concern about the vote.
“The majority should prevail, and that didn’t happen last night.” Aycock said. “Anytime the majority doesn’t prevail, that is cause for concern. We all use parliamentary tactics when we can, but most of the time we want those cases, hopefully, for the majority to prevail.”
State Sen. Troy Fraser, whose district includes Killeen, did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Dennis DeWine, chairman for a local pro-life organization, Central Texas Voices for Life, said the bill’s supporters were attempting to protect the lives of the unborn.
“I think they were doing the best they could to do right by those unborn children,” said DeWine, a Harker Heights resident. “It shows that those of us in the pro-life movement are still willing to fight for children who have no rights or voice whatsoever.”
The debate is likely to continue as Gov. Rick Perry called for another 30-day special session to take up the measure again.
“Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn,” Perry said in a statement Wednesday.
Legislators will reconvene Monday in Austin, and politicians need to be on alert, Kelinske said.
“The message was clear: that it is better when women in Texas and their doctors are the ones making medical decisions, not politicians,” she said.