Texas Republicans Gear Up for Abortion Battle

by Betsy Woodruff

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks for Austin. After Texas State senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster kept anti-abortion legislation from passing by the end of the legislature’s special session, Texans are gearing up for a second special session, and it’s going to be theatrical. Predicting protests is an imperfect science, but one statehouse source tells me he’s hearing that up to 5,000 protesters could show up on Monday for the session’s first day. And a Texas Republican insider tells me to expect protests intended to shut the capitol down that could be reminiscent of the Wisconsin union protests in 2011. He adds that they’ve heard that large buses could be bringing in protesters, and that food trucks may help to keep them fed. In other words, Austin might look a little bit like Occupy.

“This time, I expect the protesting to be even louder,” says Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. He adds that his office won’t put up with the kind of tactics that helped postpone the vote on Tuesday night.

He adds that a miscommunication kept the Department of Public Safety from clearing the galleries on Tuesday, and that that kind of miscommunication won’t happen again.

“The communication line, after I gave the order early in the evening, broke down,” he tells me. “And that will not happen the next time.”

He says the Department of Public Safety is prepared to evict protesters from committee rooms or from the gallery if they impede the legislative process.

Right now, it looks like the legislation will be on the floor of the Senate on Monday July 1, and might be heard in committee as early as Monday July 8. It will probably be voted on on the floor of the Senate by the end of the week of the eighth, though that vote could come later.

According to tea-party activist Katrina Pierson, Dewhurst has drawn criticism from some pro-life activists for the Senate’s failure to pass the legislation.

“They felt like it was weak leadership on his part,” Pierson says. “This should have been done, period. That’s why they’re going back again to get it done. SB5 will get passed.”

Pierson adds that there’s also significant grassroots ire directed at Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who is seen as insufficiently committed to the pro-life cause. Straus has been endorsed in the past by the Texas Alliance for Life and the Texas for Life Coalition, but many grassroots activists doubt his pro-life bona fides. Pierson tells me she thinks he is pro-choice.

Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, defended Straus during the 2012 primaries. The Texas Tribune reports that he once said, “It is our view that Speaker Straus is well-deserving of the support of pro-life voters in House District 121. Under his leadership as Speaker during the 82nd Legislature and the First Called Special Session, the Texas Legislature passed more pro-life legislation than in any other session in the history of Texas.”

Dewhurst sent a letter to the House the week before the filibuster saying that if the House didn’t pass SB5 by late afternoon on Sunday, it would be at risk of a filibuster. The House didn’t pass the legislation until Monday morning, making Davis’s filibuster possible.

Jason Embry, a spokesman for Straus, tells National Review, “After the governor added three major issues to the agenda halfway through the first special session, the Texas House worked diligently to address them. Each issue was approved in the House after a fair debate and then delivered to the Senate with plenty of time to provide final passage.”

After SB5 passed the Senate, it was sent to the House, where legislators added language banning abortions after 20 weeks. Because of that change, the legislation had to go back to the Senate another time for approval. And that enabled Davis’s filibuster.

On Thursday morning, State Senator Dan Patrick announced that he will run against Dewhurst in the primary. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and land commissioner Jerry Patterson had already announced that they would enter the primary, as well.

Pojman says his group hasn’t decided yet if it will support a primary challenge against Dewhurst. But his group praised Dewhurst’s leadership on Tuesday night.

“We thought the odds were overwhelmingly against defeating the filibuster, and we were very impressed with Dewhurst and the other Senators who actually managed to have a vote before midnight,” he tells me.

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