Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signified the start of another round of a fierce battle over abortions in Texas, imploring right-to-life activists to action and vowing that he and Republicans in the Legislature won't let "mob tactics" derail state government.
"We witnessed the very extremes that the pro-abortion forces will resort to in order to further their cause," Perry told a crowd of hundreds at the National Right to Life Convention.
He was referring to a one-woman filibuster by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and raucous outbursts from abortion rights protesters in the state Senate that kept lawmakers from approving sweeping restrictions that could make abortion all but impossible for many women in the second-largest state.
Those efforts ran out the clock on the midnight deadline Tuesday to pass legislation during a special legislative session Perry called to tackle abortion and other key issues. But on Wednesday, he called a second, 30-day extra session and put tighter abortion rules at the top of the agenda he sets for lawmakers.
Perry, a devout, conservative Christian, said of abortion rights activists, "even if they lose at the ballot box, even if they come up short in attempts to stall on the Senate floor, they'll resort to mob tactics to force their minority agenda on the people of Texas."
"What we witnessed Tuesday was nothing more than the hijacking of the Democratic process," the governor said. "This is simply too important a cause to allow unruly actions of the few to stand."
Davis, of Fort Worth, stood for more than 12 hours — speaking nonstop most of that time — as Democrats tried to filibuster the bill to death. But when Republicans were able to silence her on a technicality minutes before midnight, hundreds of protesters raised such a ruckus that lawmakers were unable to hold a final vote until it was too late.
The spectacle put the spotlight on Perry, who vowed Thursday that Texas will successfully approve abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The issue is so white-hot, however, that Perry has officially put his own personal ambitions on-hold — telling reporters at the convention that he will delay until lawmakers finish their work his expected announcement on whether he will seek a fourth full term as governor next year.
Perry has also not ruled out another run for the White House after his failed 2011 presidential run.
The governor joked of the hundreds of convention goers, "I'm particularly glad to see all of you this week of all weeks."
He also said it's time for them and others to take a more active role in defending proposed abortion limits, saying of opponents: "The louder they scream, the more we know we are getting something done."
"The world has seen images of pro-abortion activists screaming, cheering," Perry said. "Going forward, we have to match their intensity but do it with grace and civility."
The governor also had a message for Davis, whose filibuster has been catapulted her from a little-known state senator to sudden, national political stardom. He said even children born into "difficult circumstances" deserved to be born.
Davis starting working at 14 to help support a household of her single mother and three siblings. By 19, she was already married and divorced with a child of her own — but she eventually graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and won her senate seat in an upset.
"She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate," Perry said. "It's just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."
Davis quickly responded, calling Perry's statement "without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds."
"They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view," she said. "Our governor should reflect our Texas values. Sadly, Gov. Perry fails that test."
His decision to call another special session gives lawmakers 30 more days to push the abortion limits — perhaps enough time to withstand Democratic stall tactics. The governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, though lawmakers can only work on a to-do list Perry sets.
Republicans are likely to seek passage of another bill similar to the one that nearly passed this week. It sought a statewide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — the point at which anti-abortion activists claim a fetus can feel pain. Opponents say there is no credible scientific evidence to support that claim.
The proposed legislation also would have forced many clinics that perform abortions to upgrade their facilities to be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors would have been required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
If such a provision became law, it is possible only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics would remain in operation in a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long — and with 26 million people.
Perry drew a standing ovation at the Dallas airport hotel where the convention was being held by saying he'd like all abortions to be illegal in Texas one day.
"This isn't a partisan issue," he said. "This is a civil rights issue."