AUSTIN -- Dressed as character's from the AMC television series "Mad Men" based on a male-dominated advertising firm set in the 1960's, demonstrators accused lawmakers considering new abortion laws of turning back the clock.
"The policies that the Texas Legislature is trying to enact would take women back to a pre-1973 era when abortion was not safe, and it was not legal, and it was not accessible," said Blake Rocap with the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) Pro-Life Texas.
During the regular session, abortion bills fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to advance in the state Senate. Those included restrictions on abortions performed after 20 weeks, increased regulations on the RU-486 abortion pill regimen and requirements that abortion clinics conform to the same facility guidelines as ambulatory surgical centers. Now all of those have been wrapped into a single bill SB 5, which will require a simple majority to pass in the special session.
"We ended the regular session rather disappointed that we didn't get any statues passed, any bills passed that would further increase safety protections for women at abortion facilities," said Dr. Joe Pojman, founder of Texas Alliance for Life. "This is a great opportunity to do that."
Pojman suggests abortion pills can be more dangerous than those performed in a clinic and accuses many abortion clinics of offering substandard care compared to most day-surgery facilities. Pointing to testimony heard during the regular session chronicling complications with RU-486, Pojman argues current safety standards aren't adequate to address those complications when they arise.
"We think these are standards they should have adopted themselves years ago," said Pojman. "And when an industry does not meet safety standards on their own, it's time for the legislatures to step in and require those standards."
"The legislation they're considering today would close all but five of the clinics in the State of Texas, leaving women to their own devices or to go to Mexico," contended Rocap, who says abortion clinics already face higher regulatory burdens than any other form of routine outpatient treatment in Texas.
A political hot button that legislators showed little interest in pressing during the regular session, Rocap warns returning to the abortion issue could result in political blowback and popular frustration, such as seen in the large-scale rallies over women's health issues seen throughout 2012.
"I think you'll see that women are tired of having their bodies legislated by men," said Rocap.
Yet at the same time, many conservatives have faulted the 83rd Texas Legislature for not advancing abortion legislation, warning some Republicans could face steep consequences in primary races as a result of failing to move the issue forward. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services met Thursday at the Capitol to consider four bills (SB 5, SB 13, SB 18, SB 24) after Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) added the issue to the call Tuesday.
With two weeks left in the special session, this debate is just getting started.