Politics & Government

Fort Worth a focal point of Texas abortion battles

People waited in the Capitol rotunda for news of the vote on the comprehensive abortion bill, after a filibuster led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, on June 25, 2013, in Austin, Texas.
People waited in the Capitol rotunda for news of the vote on the comprehensive abortion bill, after a filibuster led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, on June 25, 2013, in Austin, Texas. MCT

Former state Sen. Wendy Davis couldn’t fight back the tears.

She was too happy when she learned Monday morning that the Supreme Court overturned the controversial abortion law she filibustered against in Texas three years ago.

“I immediately burst into tears,” Davis, now an Austin Democratic activist, told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview Monday. “It felt like such a relief, such a happy relief, because there was so much at stake.”

Davis drew national attention to the fight against the abortion bill when she stood and spoke for more than 11 hours on June 25, 2013, on the floot of the Texas Senate.

At issue was a measure creating some of the country’s most restrictive abortion regulations — such as requiring clinics to employ providers with admitting privileges at hospitals and ensuring that facilities meet the standards of surgical centers.

As Davis spoke, thousands of people on both sides of the issue jammed into the Texas Capitol, trying to hear her or express their opinion on the issue.

That night, as the Senate tried to vote on the proposal, people in the gallery made so much noise that senators couldn’t hear one another and the disruption prevented the chamber from passing the measure as the first special session ended.

Then-Lt. Gov. Davis Dewhurst called it an “unruly mob.”

The bill was quickly approved a few weeks later, after the Republican-led Legislature was called back for a second special session.

“To me, this speaks to the power of what it means to fight, even in the face of long odds,” said Davis, who represented Fort Worth at the time of the filibuster. “That day [of the filibuster] became what it became because of the thousands of people who made an effort to stand up and fight.

“Even though we lost in the couple of weeks that followed, that was the battle,” she said. “We’ve won the war now.”

Before the court’s ruling was issued Monday, Davis, who unsuccessfully ran to become Texas’ governor in 2014, had tweeted that she was nervous about the ruling.

“I’d filibuster again if I could,” she tweeted.

On Monday, Davis, a former Fort Worth city councilwoman, tweeted: “Today made that day 3 yrs ago all worth it! So grateful 2 all the women who shared their stories.”

Added Davis: “I hope the lesson that people take from this is that it is important for us to come together and fight for what’s right and not be discouraged when we have temporary setbacks.”

Opposing views

Tarrant County was a hotbed of activism on both sides of the abortion issue long before Davis’ rise and fall in Texas politics.

It was a Mansfield woman, Kyleen Wright, who helped lead the grassroots fight for part of the law that led to the potentially landmark case.

Wright and others in the anti-abortion movement said the ruling was more than disappointing.

“It’s devastating knowing they are going to receive this kind of substandard care now,” said Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition. “It’s very unfortunate.

“Women deserve better than that.”

Texas bishops, including Fort Worth Diocese Bishop Michael Olson, were among those to express disappointment about the ruling Monday.

“This is a sad day for women’s health, for the basic right to life and for the right to safe medical procedures,” he said.

“The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, in solidarity with women and with moral support for those who advocate on behalf of women and on behalf of their unborn children, will continue to promote the dignity of every human life from conception until natural death.”

Texas Republicans say they will continue to fight for women.

“Now abortion clinics are free to ignore these basic safety standards and continue practicing under substandard conditions,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement.

“I remain committed to protecting women’s health and safety.”

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, said she, too, will continue the fight in the Legislature.

“I am extremely disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Burton, who represents Senate District 10, the district Davis represented during the filibuster. “However, members of the Texas Legislature like myself, who believe deeply in the value of every human life, will not yield in our efforts to provide the highest quality healthcare for women and our continued promotion of a culture of life."

Now abortion clinics are free to ignore these basic safety standards and continue practicing under substandard conditions.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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