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Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, cheering with activists to disrupt the last minutes of the vote on Senate Bill 5. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by CALLIE RICHMOND

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, cheering with activists to disrupt the last minutes of the vote on Senate Bill 5. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by CALLIE RICHMOND


by AMAN BATHEJA

Minutes before midnight in the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, thousands of protesters stopped a restrictive abortion bill in its tracks by yelling at the top of their lungs.

The remarkable and surprisingly successful moment had not been planned by the established groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and the Texas Democratic Party that had done much of the organizing for the protests against Senate Bill 5. Instead, it grew organically with the help of a smaller coalition of groups — including local chapters of the Occupy movement and the International Socialist Organization, or ISO — that helped goad the crowd to a level of civil disobedience not seen in the Texas Capitol in decades.

“This was an excellent example of national organizations and grassroots organizations working together and not really stepping on each other’s toes and really each doing what they do the best,” said Tiffany Bishop of GetEqual Texas, a gay rights grassroots organization that had members at the protest. “It was really amazing to me to see the people from NARAL and Planned Parenthood screaming along with us.”

Reproductive rights activists had spent nearly a week coming to the Capitol to protest abortion restrictions proposed by Republican lawmakers during a 30-day special session called by Gov. Rick Perry to address a handful of disparate issues. The version of SB 5 that reached the Senate on Tuesday — the last day of the special session — included a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation and a requirement that abortion facilities meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center. Opponents predicted the bill would lead to the closing of nearly all of the state’s abortion facilities.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filibustered the bill, with the goal of speaking on the measure until midnight, the time by which the special session was legally required to end. Supporters of the bill said it was about improving women’s health, not restricting it, and charged Davis with thwarting the will of lawmakers elected by the majority of Texans. (Gov. Rick Perry has called for a new special session, beginning next week.)

“For the remaining abortions that do take place, safety will be there,” said state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola. “We’re talking in that case about the safety of the woman.”

Davis drew significant national attention by drawing out the filibuster for 11 hours, at which point the Senate’s Republican leadership successfully employed parliamentary maneuvers to end it.

Throughout the day, the Capitol had slowly filled with protesters, the vast majority of whom were opposed to the legislation. By the time Davis had ended her filibuster, after 10 p.m., thousands were crammed into the picturesque rotunda and in the halls near the Senate gallery, some of them having traveled in from around the state.

“I had just wanted to go support Wendy and her filibuster,” said Jenny Foster, an Austin resident who heard about the rally from news reports. “I didn’t realize it would become an act of civil disobedience.”

“I know people who drove up from Houston for it after work,” added state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who helped lead efforts to delay the bill’s passage from the House two days earlier.

During the nine-hour debate before that vote and a drawn-out hearing the week before, protest leaders frequently squashed periodic outbursts from riled activists. Democratic officials as well as representatives with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and Planned Parenthood said the goal at earlier demonstrations and throughout most of the day Tuesday was to show strength in numbers but to avoid confrontations that would get activists ejected from the building.

“We were worried about getting cleared out earlier and not being able to be there for Wendy Davis,” said Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

The mood among many activists shifted late Tuesday evening as midnight drew near and the last-ditch efforts of Senate Democrats to stall the vote began to falter.

“Several members of Occupy, the Austin ISO and other radicals were wanting to be louder,” said Dave Cortez of Occupy Austin. “And since last week, we had been told be respectful, respect decorum.”

Around 11 p.m., chants of “Wendy!” and “Kill the bill!” gained volume.

“Our job as we saw it was to gauge the crowd and see what the potential was for taking things in the most radical direction possible,” said Katie Feyh of the Austin ISO chapter.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, had staked out a spot in the center of the rotunda, not far from where a portrait of her mother, former Gov. Ann Richards, hung on the wall. She and others, including some Democratic lawmakers, could be seen occasionally gesturing to the crowd to quiet down.

At 15 minutes before midnight, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, struggled to be recognized to speak by state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, who was presiding over the upper chamber’s proceedings.

“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” she asked. Those in the Senate gallery erupted in cheers and soon began clapping in unison. A larger crowd just outside the Senate chamber’s doors joined in. The chain reaction spread to the rotunda, where thousands soon began yelling, most unsure what had prompted the latest outburst. Various activists began urging people to be even louder and to keep at it, with the hope of drowning out the Senate.

“We were losing anyway,” Bishop said. “I think that was everyone else’s opinion, too. When you have 3,000 people packed at the Capitol, it gives everyone a lot of courage and a lot of strength and a lot of unity.”

At first, some people working with Richards could be seen making time-out gestures. After word spread from the Senate floor that the noise was effectively grinding the Senate to a halt, Richards began furiously pumping her arms in the air, signaling to all around her to get as loud as possible. The noise in the Capitol grew to a deafening roar.

“That was vital,” Cortez said. “Her support really helped put it all together.”

With every passing minute, activists put up fingers in the air to signify the minutes left until midnight.

“I turned my hearing aids all the way down and I still got deaf from the noise,” said David Plylar of San Antonio, who attended the protests with his wife. “But it was a happy noise.”

The Senate did not complete a vote on the bill until 12:03 a.m. At 3 a.m., Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst admitted that the bill was dead and blamed its failure on the protesters.

“This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dewhurst said. “An unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics has tried all day to derail legislation that has been intended to protect the lives and the safety of women and babies.”

Farrar disputed that characterization and argued that the protesters were responding in large part to the belief that Davis’ filibuster was inappropriately cut short.

“They didn’t feel like the process was fair, and it just erupted,” Farrar said. “They were determined to finish Wendy’s filibuster.”

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AMAN BATHEJA reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

SHEFALIA LUTHRA contributed reporting

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16 thoughts on “Occupy movement, socialists helped stoke abortion furor

  1. Add “gays rights groups arguing for abortion rights” to the list of things that don’t make sense in this world. Last I checked, there aren’t too many gays or lesbians accidentally getting pregnant and needing abortions.

    …..and before you lambaste me, please understand that my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek for the duration of this comment…..

  2. Not lambasting you at all, but surely you realize that *any* female can get pregnant without wanting to….but oh wait, I’ve heard that the body shuts that right down. My mistake! 😉

  3. I can’t believe there could be so much editorializing by the Mercury Staff on what is labeled a news article.

  4. Dano, even lesbians can be victims of rape. And regardless of where your tongue may be, consider that the gay community may have a deeper understanding of what it means to be stripped of your Constitutional rights.

  5. Well, Lila from Kyle-a, since you have made the assertions that both gay marriage and abortion are “Constitutional rights”, would you care to back those assertions up? Because I’ve read the Constitution more than once and I just don’t see either of those things listed as rights…..

  6. Right on Dano!!! No where in the Constitution does it say that it is a right to marry within your same sex, or to murder your child! I’m so sick of hearing that those are Constitutional rights!

  7. U.S. Constitution

    Amendment 14

    Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    In case your copy of the amended constitution accidentally left this one out. But if it isn’t clear that a right to privacy in the Constitution exists I might also refer you to the Third, Fourth, and Ninth amendments. If your copy is missing those as well let me Google it for you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=United+States+Constitution

  8. I didn’t see “abortion” or “same sex marriage” anywhere in that text, Steven.

    In fact, when I see the phrase “nor shall any State deprive any person of life….without due process of law” it sure makes me think that a process like abortion that ends up with a wee dead person who had no benefit of due process of law kind of flies in the face of the 14th Amendment.

    How the SCOTUS came up with the exact opposite impression defies logic to this day.

    But then, I also find it peculiar that someone who murders a pregnant woman can be charged with double murder while abortion is legal. Is the unborn child a “person” under law or not?

  9. Maybe the word State had something to do with it.

    Personally, the State should stay out of it all together, neither pro nor con. But that’s just my thinking.

  10. Dano, if you will make the old men sit down and shut up about abortion, I will get the queers to do the same.

  11. One also does not see CIA, NSA, IRS, or Air Force, but all of those departments of the government are legal under the constitution. But what some fail to see is the following clause, “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. So to deny same sex unions one denies same sex couples equal protection. When the recent rulings were handed down by the Supremes my rights weren’t infringed upon, my marriage didn’t fail, and I didn’t want to all of a sudden gay marry someone. Nor did my dog get nervous that he was next as so many extremists claim.
    But what some also fail to see is that the issue then becomes what constitutes a “person” under the law. “Corporations are people my friend”(M. Romney), but a fetus, unable to survive outside of the womb is not. SCOTUS decided that viability should be the standard. At the time, 24 to 28 weeks was considered to cover that range of viability. The Court also allowed viability to include viability by mechanical means.
    I find it odd that people who hate government intruding into their lives WANT MORE GOVERMENT intruding into their neighbors lives. They thump their chests and proclaim how we are the land of the free and home of the brave, all the while down playing the caveat, unless you disagree with them.
    But here is the reality about our grand experiment, Freedom Is About Choice. Sometimes we make bad choices and sometimes we make good choices but you dear reader, me, and everyone we know have the inalienable right to choose, or to put it another way, we have the inalienable right to be FREE.

  12. The Court found abortion under a inferred right to privacy – not with any text that Prof Hernandez puts forward. That is why limits can be placed. Limiting to 20 weeks means the only ones whose “rights” are being limited are those who can’t make their mind up for five months and only to decide to terminate once the child is viable and can feel pain. Yet the left acts like any limit is ridiculous and anti-woman. Terminating a viable girl is pretty anti-woman; Don’t procrastinate.

    Gay marriage is different, so that is what makes it even harder to understand the article’s recount of all the nuts lining up on one side of this one. Rape is an exception to almost all abortion restrictions, so the floated lesbian rape hypo is more than a far outlier.

  13. The Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade declared that a right to privacy exists and covers the right to an abortion. The right is not explicitly stated in the Constitution like other rights and powers are not stated outright. Instead it fell under the category of substantive due process. Something that grows from other rights found therein and implied through protections for bodily autonomy and limits on state power with respect to individual acts. The constiution was never intended to be interpreted so restrictively. This is something that John Marshall himself made clear in numerous rulings, Dano.

  14. Although an equal protection basis has been argued as providing a right to an abortion by some. It is an interesting legal argument, at least, and not without considerable support.

  15. “But what some also fail to see is that the issue then becomes what constitutes a “person” under the law. “Corporations are people my friend”(M. Romney), but a fetus, unable to survive outside of the womb is not.”
    None of us are able to survive outside of the womb Professor Hernandez. Does that mean we are not “persons”? Did the Supreme Court use any other criteria, or empirical evidence for coming up with this determination? I am not against abortions or executions, but I feel they both terminate a life. Abortions are pre-emptive executions. I wonder how many women screaming at the capitol have actually had an abortion. The women I know that have, are not that vociferous about it as a right, or entitlement. They seem to carry some guilt about their choice. Prevention would seem the better method of birth control, but it is their body and they can choose to haul caliche with their vaginas if they want.

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