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Texas lawmakers convene to revive abortion bill

Demonstrators rally at Capitol during session

Senators Wendy Davis, Royce West, and Carlos Uresti led a rally in Austin prior to a special session of the state Legislature.

MIKE STONE/REUTERS

Senators Wendy Davis, Royce West, and Carlos Uresti led a rally in Austin prior to a special session of the state Legislature.

AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of demonstrators converged on the Texas Capitol on Monday, the majority expressing their opposition to new abortion restrictions that a Democratic filibuster and raucous protests derailed last week.

Lawmakers briefly convened a special legislative session aimed at reviving the bill that would limit where, when, and how women may obtain abortions in the state. Supporters say it will protect women’s health and fetuses, while opponents say it is designed to shut the state’s abortion clinics.

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The Legislature recessed less than an hour after convening. That was just long enough to refer the abortion legislation to committees for public hearings.

Less than one week earlier, Democrats scored a rare victory in the GOP-dominated Legislature by running out the clock on the first special session.

Democratic Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth was on her feet for more than 12 hours — speaking most of that time — during the Democratic filibuster. When Republicans used parliamentary technicalities to silence her, hundreds of protesters in the public gallery and surrounding Capitol corridors cheered so loudly that work on the bill couldn’t be completed before the midnight deadline.

‘‘You’re going to see a completely different debate this time around,’’ said Representative Steve Toth, a Republican from the Woodlands. ‘‘We’re not under that kind of timeline this time around.’’

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst took no chances with raucous protesters in the second special session on Monday. Security was much tighter than before, with troopers — some of them in riot gear — throughout the Capitol complex.

When protesters filed into the House and Senate galleries, pages provided them with copies of the rules warning them that if they disrupted the proceedings, they'd be ejected. There were no arrests or any incidents of violence reported.

And Dewhurst said the Senate would make one major procedural change as well. Rather than follow tradition and require a two-thirds vote to bring up a bill for consideration, he said it would take only a simple majority during this session. That could prove critical because Democrats hold 12 out of 31 seats and successfully blocked the abortion law during the regular legislative session.

On the House side, State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook, Republican of Corsicana, said he would only allow less than nine hours of public testimony on the bill. Public protests erupted two weeks ago when he cut off testimony during the last session after 12 hours and denied more than 260 women the chance to speak.

‘‘A wise man once said, nothing good happens after midnight,’’ Cook said, explaining why he was limiting testimony.

Although there would be no action on either floor during the Fourth of July week, committees were set to hold public hearings to consider the measure.

Cook said his committee could approve the bill early Wednesday morning. The soonest the bill could pass the full Legislature is July 10, unless the Republican majorities suspend the rules to move it sooner. Governor Rick Perry could sign the bill into law almost immediately.

‘‘The Texas Legislature is poised to finish its history-making work this year by passing legislation to protect the unborn and women’s health,’’ Perry said Monday in a statement.

Democrats can do little to stop the bill this time, only slow it down with parliamentary procedure. A late start gave Davis a chance to filibuster the bill on the last day of the session, but with 30 days in the new one, a repeat seems nearly impossible.

‘‘We know where the votes are. We also know what the calendar is. We know how difficult that calendar can be when its working against you,’’ said Austin Democratic Senator Kirk Watson, suggesting the bill will likely end up in court. ‘‘If they win this battle ... I believe we will win the war.’’

More than 5,000 demonstrators gathered at noon to oppose the new abortion restrictions as television stars and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks rallied the cheering crowd.

Davis told the crowd that their support helped her maintain the effort.

‘‘You were at the crux of a turning point in Texas history,’’ Davis said.

Opponents wore orange T-shirts and prepared for a rally with national women’s rights leaders. Supporters wore blue and recited the Lord’s Prayer outside the Senate.

The measure’s supporters were scheduled to hold their own rally.

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