Eric Gay, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — This time when the Texas Senate takes up tough new abortion restrictions, the chamber's top Republican is determined not to let anything — or anyone — derail a vote.
The Senate's leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has scheduled a vote for Friday on the same restrictions on when, where and how women may obtain abortions in Texas that failed to become law after a Democratic filibuster and raucous protesters were able to run out the clock on an earlier special session.
Hundreds of activists from both sides of the debate lined the state Capitol's halls more than four hours before the Senate debate was scheduled to begin Friday. They were met by dozens of extra police officers guarding the gallery and holding down the hallways. For those who break the rules, the Texas Constitution gives Dewhurst the authority to jail them for up to 48 hours, no court necessary.
"We're going to have strict enforcement. If there are any demonstrations, we are going to clear the gallery," Dewhurst said Thursday. "I hope we don't get to that point but if we do, we do. This is a democracy and we will not be interrupted from doing the people's work by an unruly mob."
Some arrived as early as 4:30 a.m. Friday and the crowds continued to line up at the security station to get in the building, with many sitting on the steps and some carrying folding camping chairs — despite signs at the Capitol barring camping equipment. As has been the case for the last two weeks, anti-abortion activists wore blue and abortion rights activists wore orange, with the latter dominant among the early crowd.
Among the first two in line were anti-abortion activist Johanna McCrary of Conroe and abortion rights activist Kristi Lara of Dallas. Both of them came to the Capitol after the June 25 filibuster and have been in Austin for more than a week. More than 5,000 people swarmed the Capitol last week to oppose the bill.
"This is a civil rights issue," Lara said, comparing the efforts of abortion rights activists to demonstrations during the civil rights era.
"We will not give up the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought for," said Lara, who was wearing an orange dress with a white sash that read "Vote for Women" and had a plastic speculum, a gynecological instrument, hanging from her neck.
Every person who enters the gallery will be issued a copy of the "rules of decorum" that stipulate there can be no demonstrations or attempts to disrupt the chamber's work. Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Rick DeLeon also said Friday that no props — including speculums and coat hangers — will be allowed into the Senate gallery, per decorum rules.
McCrary, who was confident the bill will pass, said she hopes there won't be a similar outburst to the one that disrupted the previous Senate vote.
"This is America, have respect and reverence for the law. I was appalled," she said. McCrary wore an American flag vest with a sticker that read "Unborn Babies Feel Pain."
Despite the women's disagreement, both said activists had been well behaved with each other.
For Dewhurst, who lost control of the Senate to what he called an "unruly mob" during a debate on abortion two weeks ago, his political survival relies on passing House Bill 2. Once considered a formidable politician, Dewhurst bid goodbye to his Senate colleagues in 2011, expecting to easily win a U.S. Senate seat. But tea party favorite Ted Cruz painted him as a moderate, and now he has three challengers in the Republican primary.
As for the GOP, the restrictions are a top priority for the Christian conservative voters who make a majority of Texas Republican voters and want abortions banned. Democrats, however, see in the protests as an opportunity that could help them break a 20-year losing streak for statewide office.
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