Remember how Governor Rick Perry called a special session to talk about redistricting? And remember how sophisticated political observers (i.e. everyone with eyes and a functioning brain) predicted that the special session would soon turn into a huge, nasty dogfight about abortion? Yeah, that's happening. On Tuesday, Perry added "legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities" to the special session call, along with consideration of mandatory life sentences for 17-year old capital offenders.
In a press release late yesterday, though, Perry made it pretty clear which of those issues he's more concerned with, writing, in part:
The horrors of the national late-term abortion industry are continuing to come to light, one atrocity at a time. Sadly, some of those same atrocities happen in our own state. In Texas, we value all life, and we've worked to cultivate a culture that supports the birth of every child. We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause.
As we mentioned previously, the anti-abortion bills back on the table are extensive. We've got Bob Deuell's bill to require that every clinic which provides abortions -- or even prescribes RU-486, the "abortion pill" -- to conform to the standards of an ambulatory surgical center. That measure, not coincidentally, would likely force nearly every clinic in the state to either submit to expensive remodeling or shut their doors. Also back is Dan Patrick's Senate bill to drastically limit access to those medical abortions by forcing women to have a sonogram beforehand, take both pills in front of a doctor and see their physician for a follow-up within two weeks -- all things that are medically unnecessary and designed to make medical abortions harder to get, especially for rural women. For his part, Perry is especially bullish on that bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks .
But what's the plan here? This last regular session of the Lege was widely dubbed the "Kumbaya session," marked largely by the fact that nobody on either side had much appetite to fight about things like abortion. All these bills either died in committee or wandered out onto the House and Senate floors and were politely ignored. How do the Republicans plan to make this happen?
In a word: by temporarily changing the legislative rules of procedure. Also known in the vernacular as "cheating." In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Texas Alliance for Life executive director Joe Pojman said, cheerily, that the bills have a much better chance of success because, as Jay Root writes,"[Lieutenant Governor David] Dewhurst has said he plans to suspend Senate procedural rules that give Democrats a strong voice in legislative debates."
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That's right. Not because the time has suddenly come to pass new, even more restrictive laws on abortion. Not because the people who elected these legislators are suddenly clamoring for them. But because David Dewhurst has suspended a rule that requires a supermajority vote -- 21 out of 31 senators -- in order to debate a bill on the Senate floor. Without the 21-senator rule in effect, a simple majority can approve a bill. There are 19 Republican senators. As the Houston Chronicle reports, Senator Glenn Hagar also filed an "omnibus" bill containing all four of the most controversial abortion restrictions. In other words, with those pesky rules cleared away, the Senate could now easily pass all of them in one fell swoop.
State Senator Kirk Watson, head of the Senate Democrats, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "There's a reason that bills undermining Texas women's right to choice didn't pass this session -- they were bad proposals."
The ACLU of Texas is also, predictably, quite irritated. In a statement, executive director Terri Burke said, in part, ""These bills added by Governor Perry are so bad the Legislature followed its rules and didn't want to even vote on them during the regular session. The rules of a regular session are there to protect us from extremes. If bills don't make it, democracy wins. The citizens of Texas win. None of these anti-abortion bills even made it to the floor for debate."
Burke added that the special session is expected to cost about $1 million, money that could be better spent on talking about, say, education. Which is clearly ridiculous. Not when there are 17-year-olds to lock up forever and women to oppress. Come on now.