The night of Tuesday, June 25 was one crazy and unsettling night for many Texans. A sea of pro-choice persons clad in orange shirts with speckles of pro-life blue shirts thrown in here and there had been present in the Texas Capitol building in downtown Austin for nearly 13 hours.
And the chaotic nature of the event was just reaching its climax when I arrive at 11:30pm at the capitol with a friend. Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster had come to an abrupt end after a third point of order issue and the Democrats were attempting to continue to stall the vote for Senate Bill 5 (SB5). We met up with other friends in blue to be a witness for life, to pray and to observe a historical night for Texas.
That history came, though not quite as many had expected and hoped for, and definitely not as the few of us in blue were hoping and praying for.
Tuesday, June 25 was the culmination of a long, tense attempt by Texas Republicans to pass a bill that would cause sweeping reform in the abortion industry in Texas. The bill had not been passed in the regular legislative session and Governor Rick Perry had added the topic to the agenda for the special session he had called to address transportation and juvenile justice issues. And by the time the bill had reached the Texas Senate, Senate Bill 5 (SB5) was already significantly demonized by the Democratic party and pro-choicers and highly praised by the Republican party and pro-lifers. What would SB5 do? Why is it so polarizing? Well it would:
1. Increase abortion facility safety standards to that of an ambulatory surgical center (a health care facility focused on providing same-day surgical care)
2. Require that RU-486 pill abortions (medication that causes an abortion) be performed according to FDA (Federal Drug Administration) safety standards
3. Require doctors who perform abortions to be qualified to treat life-threatening complications and have privileges at a local hospital
4. Prevent abortions on unborn children 20 weeks or older (when scientific evidence shows a baby can feel pain)
So, morality issues aside in regards to abortion (and there are many, especially for Catholics), the passage of SB5 would be an important, positive thing for woman in Texas. Passage of SB5 would be a win for proper healthcare for woman.
Yet the deafeningly loud crowd of orange jeered, cheered and chanted phrases in the Texas Senate Gallery, Capitol building rotunda and wings, preventing the passage of SB5 before midnight.
Meanwhile, I was huddled off to the side and near one of the entrances with about a dozen other pro-life Catholics, praying Hail Mary’s and checking our Twitter feeds and various Facebook pages for updates on what was happening inside Senate Chambers. It was un-nerving to say the least. We were out-numbered at least 30-1 (probably more), and we were quieter and less aggressive than some of those clad in orange.
As the minutes ticked away, the crowd got louder. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood stood in the middle of the rotunda behind a podium encouraging and inciting the crowd. The Texas State Troopers called in for back-up and stopped allowing new entrances into the capitol as the crowd grew larger and louder. And with ten seconds remaining until midnight, a countdown began.
And then a loud, victory cheer.
But soon, the cheer turned to uncertainty. No one knew if the vote, which had taken place and passed SB5 with a vote of 19-12, had actually counted. Did the vote begin before midnight or after midnight? Was the vote started before midnight but not officially approved by majority until after midnight? Did a lack of decorum and delay in voting caused by onlookers in the Senate Gallery mean that time had been suspended as the gallery was cleared?
We pro-lifers huddled together and continued our Hail Mary’s and other prayers.
Slowly, as it became clear that it would take awhile for a decision on the validity of the vote, people began to leave. My friend and I left around 12:30am. It wasn’t until 3am that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst made a ruling that the vote on SB5 did not count.
From what I understand, there was still quite a crowd of people present in and around the capitol grounds for that ruling. I myself was at home watching the proceedings online but it was difficult to hear the stream. Finally, when I did read the ruling of Dewhurst, I went to bed, praying for those who do not understand the value of life and health of a woman and her child.
As Wednesday progressed, I talked about SB5 and the events surrounding the bill with others. I read blog posts, opinion pieces, national newspaper articles, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates. And I called Governor Rick Perry’s office to request he add another Special Session and include the bill as a topic again.
Many condemn Catholics involvement in the political realm, however, the Catholic Church teaches us that we have an obligation to be faithful citizens to our nation and state, and that we are called to help care for the well-being of others. Often times in our democratic society, laws are a large part of how we can help initially care for the well-being of another.
As Catholics we become the voice for the voiceless and those who cannot represent themselves to the government. And with SB5, we become the voice of a pregnant mom contemplating abortion and the voice of an unborn child. Two persons that in the midst of seeking an abortion are not taken care as well as SB5 wants them to be.
Governor Rick Perry has paid attention the phone calls and emails directed at him requesting a Second Special Session of the 83rd Texas Legislature. And so from July 1-30 as the Second Special Session is held, please pray, offer sacrifices and speak up on behalf of the woman and children who can’t and don’t speak for themselves.
Want to get an idea of how loud it was in the Capitol? Check out this 10-second clip I took while standing pretty far away from the rotunda:
Video at the Capitol