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Why round two of the Texas abortion fight won’t end like round one

Welcome to day one of Texas's special legislative session, in which a heated debate over abortion that burst onto the national radar last week will pick up where it left off.

But this time, the story is likely to end differently. Equipped with more time, GOP majorities and renewed urgency, Republicans are poised to pass a measure to tighten abortion restrictions that state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) successfully blocked last week, catapulting onto the national radar.

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D). (Eric Gay/AP)

One major reason Republican plans to pass the measure — which would would ban abortions after 20 weeks and require doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, among other things — in the previous session were foiled: Time was not on the GOP's side. Gov. Rick Perry (R) added the abortion debate after the session was already underway. This time, he's established it as a priority from the outset.

"In the last session it was handled very poorly [by Republicans]," said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. "There was a coordination problem across the board."

By the time the measure was on the verge of a vote last week, Davis was able to stall it by launching a filibuster spanning more than 11 hours. She won't be working with a similar timetable this go-round.

"[Republicans] have given themselves the time to make mistakes and get it passed," said Matt Angle, a Texas Democratic strategist and longtime Davis supporter.

Davis's blockade quickly went viral online last week, and protesters flocked to the state Capitol to support her cause. In the end, they won a substantial — if temporary — victory, and Davis became a national figure in the larger debate over abortion.

But a byproduct of her effort was that Republicans quickly resolved to redouble their efforts to pass the bill. Perry has guaranteed it will become law, and the stakes couldn't be higher for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who picked up yet another primary challenger last week. State Sen. Dan Patrick became the third Republican to enter the race against the incumbent, kicking off his bid with a jab at Dewhurst's handling of the abortion bill.

"If in some way Dewhurst doesn't get this legislation through, he won't even be able to to run for reelection," said Jones.

Republican majorities in the Texas legislature ensure the numbers are there for Dewhurst and Perry to pass the bill. The measure passed the state Senate by an almost 2-1 margin last week, but the tally was rendered inconsequential because it came too late.

For Davis, the new session is a chance to cast a renewed statewide and national spotlight on Republican efforts to tighten abortion laws, even if she can't ultimately stop the bill from becoming law.

"They'll probably be a little bit smarter about how they try to move this bill in this next session starting on Monday," Davis said on CBS's "Face The Nation." "But what they now have to confront is that the eyes of Texas, the eyes of the country are watching and they are going to be held accountable for the decisions that they make in this process."

Activists on both sides of the issue are already gearing up. And the bill has has fueled a larger debate over women's issues.

"I think we're at a place where a woman's health is danger, because of whether this family planning or contraception or any issues that relate to women's health, there's an assault on that in the Congress on the ongoing, and in other parts of the country. So we have to be ever vigilant and fight for this," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Greg Mueller, a conservative strategist, said, "Perry is right to keep pressing this as it not only protects women and preborn children, it's good politics."

We know this much: Davis won the first round of the abortion debate in Texas. And Perry is near certain to win the second one. Where it goes from there is what remains to be decided.


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Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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