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Perry calls for special session to revisit controversial abortion bill

Spectators erupted in cheers in the last moments of an epic session of the Texas state legislature considering abortion restrictions. Video from Texas Tribune. (The Texas Tribune)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Wednesday called for a special legislative session to convene July 1, reviving GOP hopes of passing a controversial bill to tighten abortion restrictions just hours after it was stymied.

“We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do,” Perry said in a statement.

The tussle over the abortion measure flared up Tuesday with one lawmaker’s stand. It ended with the bill’s blockage. Perry’s decision to call lawmakers back to work next week clears the way for the measure to win eventual passage.

At issue is a GOP-backed bill to place stricter regulations on abortion in the state. The bill, known as SB 5, would ban abortions after 20 weeks and mandate that doctors have hospital admitting privileges, among other things.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced early Wednesday that time had run out on the bill amid an hours-long opposition campaign from state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and a flood of protesters who entered the state Capitol in solidarity with her. While the setback for the bill was only temporary, it was hailed by abortion rights advocates as a major victory.

Republicans were hoping to pass the bill on the last day of the special session that ended at midnight on Wednesday. But Davis, 50, who represents a Fort Worth-area district, had different plans. Late Tuesday morning, she launched a filibuster that would stretch for nearly half the day, attract attention from across the country and spur like-minded activists to join her fight in person.

“Partisanship and ambition are not unusual in a state capitol, but here, in Texas, right now, it has risen to a level of profound irresponsibility and the raw abuse of power,” Davis said in a statement before launching her effort.

Late Tuesday, Republicans derailed Davis’s filibuster. She had run afoul of the rules, they noted. And so the race was on to try to pass the measure at quite literally the 11th hour.

What came next was a period of confusion, followed by an announcement from Dewhurst that lawmakers had not passed the bill before time had expired on the session. Hundreds of protesters had poured into the Capitol. Dewhurst blamed them for disrupting the proceedings.

“An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies,” Dewhurst said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“The people can’t come and create so much of a ruckus that we can’t do our job,” state Sen. Dan Patrick (R) told the Texas Tribune.

In addition to abortion, the special session will also take transportation issues and sentencing matters under consideration, Perry said.

“Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state,” said Perry. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just.”

But abortion will be the most contentious issue on the agenda. The debate over abortion has been thrust into the forefront of the national political debate in recent months. The U.S. House recently approved the most sweeping abortion restrictions in a decade. The measure aimed to capitalize on anger over Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion provider who was convicted of first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in cases involving his clinic.

Pro-abortion rights advocates cheered Davis’s effort. And she has become a national figure, drawing widespread attention on social media. The hashtag #standwithwendy was mentioned in some 400,000 tweets, according to Twitter. A dispatch from President Obama’s account that included it read: “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America President IIlyse Hogue said in a statement that Davis “inspired people across the country and showed us what a true pro-choice champion looks like. Outnumbered by anti-choice politicians in the Texas state Senate, yet supported by a galvanized crowd of protesters, Wendy stood victorious and made history in the fight to protect a woman’s right to choose.”

It wasn’t the first time Davis, a Harvard-educated attorney and former city councilwoman, had filibustered a proposal she disagreed with. The Democrat sought to stop a measure to slash education spending in 2011, earning widespread attention.

Davis’s filibuster came months after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seized the national spotlight with a marathon filibuster of the Obama administration's use of unmanned aerial drones. The attention Davis earned illustrated once again that such moves can be effective ways of drawing focus to policy issues.

“I’m pleased to know the spotlight is shining on Texas, on the failure of our current leadership, but a spotlight is also shining on how great we are because we are an incredible state made up of incredible, spirited people who step up and make a difference when it’s necessary to do that,” Davis said after the filibuster, according to the Dallas Morning News.

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

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