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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Commentary

Wendy Davis' abortion law filibuster may be a 'Texas Spring'


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Abortion rights supporters may as well put away those champagne glasses.

Jubilation probably came a bit prematurely for those celebrating the demise of the Texas measure that would turn back the clock on reproductive rights.

While many thought that Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis' bold filibuster killed the bill outlawing abortions after 20 weeks' gestation, it merely served to postpone what many think is inevitable: the passage of yet another state measure restricting abortion and creating an insurmountable regulatory obstacle for all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics, by requiring them to offer the same level of care as ambulatory surgery centers.

Terri Burke, executive director of the Texas ACLU and a fierce opponent of the proposed Texas measure, SB 5, told me last week that, barring a miracle, she expects the Legislature will pass the bill at some point in the special session that Republican Gov. Rick Perry called the day after Davis' dramatic 11-hour filibuster. The special session, which will deal with the abortion bill as well as bills dealing with transportation and juvenile justice, convened Monday.

"I am the eternal optimist," Burke said. "There may be something we haven't thought of to stop it but absent that, yeah, I think it will pass."

Texas rules allow one filibuster per bill, per session. That would present an impossible challenge for Davis if she's contemplating another talkathon.

Even if the restrictive measure passes, it will be tied up in litigation, as many legal experts believe that bills trying to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks' gestation conflict with the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that states may not restrict a woman's right to end a pregnancy before viability, or when the fetus can live outside the womb.

Three years ago, no states had 20-week bans. Today, 12 states have passed such bills, as has the U.S. House of Representatives. At 20 weeks, abortion opponents contend, a fetus is able to feel pain. According to a 2005 multidisciplinary review of evidence in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester," or 24 weeks. Only 1.4 percent of abortions are performed after 21 weeks.

The silver lining for advocates of abortion rights, said Burke, is that Davis' filibuster seems to have awakened a sense of outrage in a group that has often seemed complacent as states have steadily chipped away at reproductive choice, requiring ultrasounds, waiting periods, parental consent and other measures designed to make abortions too difficult to obtain.

Social media played a part in that awakening.

"I think it was the Texas Spring," said Burke, alluding to the popular uprisings that swept the Arab world starting in 2010. "I think the ground shifted in Texas last night."

"But it's not just about abortion," she added. "In Texas, this right-wing extremism has dominated our politics, and finally those in the middle, and those who are left-leaning, have found their voice. They really finally realized there were more of them than they thought there were."

Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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