PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

June 26, 2013

Locals react to abortion bill

Beaumont clinic would close if bill passes

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

— It took an 11-hour filibuster and the yells of hundreds to drown a Senate Bill that would restrict women’s access to health care, but now those voices that were heard loud and clear on a world stage Tuesday may be reduced to a whisper.

Just hours after Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, railed against sweeping abortion bill legislation while throngs of people lined the state capitol rotunda to protest of Senate Bill 5 Tuesday in a fevered pitch, and ultimately defeated the bill, Governor Rick Perry announced intentions to call a second special  session to consider the matter once again.

This time around, unlike the last 30-day special session, Perry has bumped the abortion legislation to the beginning of the session. With plenty of time to consider the measure before the session’s conclusion, the effects of a new filibuster would be moot.

That was not the case on Tuesday when lawmakers had until 11:59 p.m. to pass Senate Bill 5.

Instead, time ran out when the throngs of protesters picked up where Davis left off after a procedural ruling effectively ended her filibuster.

Parliamentary rules prohibit the filibuster from leaning on a desk, sitting on a chair, or straying off topic.

Twice, during the hours-long filibuster, Republicans protested her for straying off topic, and once Senator Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, protested when a colleague assisted Davis in adjusting a back brace.

After the third breech, according to Texas parliamentary rules, the opposing party can call for a vote.

If anyone thought the disqualification would silence efforts to kill the bill, they were wrong. Where she left off, the hundreds of protesters took up.

Above the shouts, while Texas Department of Public Safety troopers escorted people out one-by-one, the Republican-led bill died when the 19-10 vote was not made before midnight.

“It was short of amazing about 10 minutes until they started to do a roll call. The gallery was packed with people. No one could hear; it was deafening. You could not hear the person beside you,” Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said.

Deshotel, who represents  District 22 which includes portions of Jefferson and Orange counties, was in Austin during the contentious Senate proceedings.

On Wednesday morning during a phone interview, Deshotel estimated about 5,000 people were inside the capitol. Those who made it into the gallery bore witness to an old-fashioned filibuster that drew widespread praise, catapulted Davis into the national spotlight, and swelled the ranks of the Fort Worth senator’s Twitter followers.

Joseph Deshotel Jr., joined his father on the frenzied Senate floor to Tweet the night’s events.

Some of his tweets were re-tweeted.

“It was pretty wild. I had three or four that were re-tweeted more than 300 times. Dad did as well,” Joe Deshotel Jr., 30, said.

Most of the crowd, he said, were in their 20’s, with the majority women.

“This was the largest gathering of young people I have ever seen in the capital. But what was inspiring is that this could be some type of watershed moment in Texas politics, if not national politics, Joseph Deshotel Jr., said.

Though the filibuster was planned to kill the vote, in the end, it was the citizens who came from near and far to voice opposition to proposed legislation that would have imposed new regulations on abortion clinics — those so rigorous that 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas would be forced to shutter their doors.

Davis, Representative Deshotel said, should be lauded for her efforts.

“Wendy did a superb job. She is probably the most well known political figure in Texas now; everybody knows who she is now. She could run for governor and get some support,” Representative Deshotel said.

While Davis’ efforts commanded attention on television, in newsprint, social media and YouTube, not all were pleased with her efforts, or the bill’s outcome.

The bill required all clinics that provide abortions to meet ambulatory care standards. Doctors performing those procedures should have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The bill also limits abortions performed after 20 weeks.

“The abortion clinics wanted to be treated as health care, but don’t want to be regulated as health care. They ask for state and federal funds, but don’t want to be regulated health care,” Victor Soares, president of the Right to Life of Southeast Texas in Beaumont, said Wednesday during a phone interview.

Soares said one of the big arguments when Roe vs. Wade was passed was that thousands of women were injured by having to go to back street unregulated abortion providers.

“The issue should be we are trying to regulate these facilities. If they have to shut their doors because they cannot meet the regulations, that is an admission they are not operating properly,” Soars said. “I think it is just a reasonable step to make sure these facilities act as a health facility and a term of 20 weeks is a reasonable term,” Soares said.

The Rev. Joe Worley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Groves, said Tuesday’s victory, based on a technicality, was deceiving.

“While it may appear to be a victory for women’s rights, keep in mind the rights of all the little women still remaining in the womb are denied their rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” Worley said.

Fatimah Gifford, director of public relations with Whole Women’s Health, said the bill would effectively force most abortion clinics in Texas to close, including the company’s Beaumont Clinic.

In addition to the Beaumont facility, Whole Women’s Health operates two abortion clinics in Houston, one in Austin and two in San Antonio. The San Antonio ambulatory surgical center that performs abortions, would be able to stay open because it already falls within the bill’s regulations.

The proposed facility requirements are so strict that the clinics would not be able to afford to make the renovations, Gifford said.

On average it cost $350 per square foot to build an ambulatory surgical center as required in the bill. By contrast, regular abortion clinics  cost  $17 per square foot, Gifford said.

“You do the math, Gifford said. “I don’t see how the new facility regulations would protect women’s health. This bill is strictly to restrict access.”

The five Texas clinics that would be able to stay open — two in Houston, one in Dallas, one in San Antonio, and another in Austin, are all on the east side of Interstate 35.

“That’s a whole half of the state of Texas, so all those women are going to have to run to the existing clinics. I cannot imagine what the foot traffic would look like,” she said.

Gifford said she is not surprised the bill did not pass Tuesday because of the amount of opposition at the capital.

“We want to remain open. We want to be able to continue to provide safe affordable abortion care to women in our community, but I don’t think the fight is over,” Gifford said.

Tuesday’s action, according to Joseph Ura, assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M, said Tuesday’s events highlight how important of an issue abortion has become.

“It was certainly very interesting. Depending on your point of view, it put Texas in a good light, or a bad light,” Ura said.

Tuesday’s events in Texas also demonstrate how the frontier of policy making on abortion has changed to a state level.

“The action is now happening in state capitals all over the U.S. In this state, on paper the rules are about increasing the level of care, facility layout. In practice, they are going to close down abortion clinics,” Ura said.

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews