AUSTIN -- Wearing a wide smile as he greeted the state Senate Thursday morning, former presidential candidate and outspoken abortion opponent Rick Santorum voiced support for Texas Republicans poised to pass House Bill 2.
"I wanted to come down here because I wanted to stand with these men and women who are doing something really great," Santorum told a room packed with elected officials and members of the media.
Santorum accused the media of portraying supporters of the controversial anti-abortion legislation as extremists, calling Senate Democrats opposing the bill, namely state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth), the real radicals.
"The person who blocked it is lionized by the media, roundly supported by the president and everybody in their party for taking an extreme point of view by any stretch of the imagination," Santorum said. "You in the media need to understand how you are reporting the truth."
The truth is HB 2 includes a ban on nearly all abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, as well a requirement that all abortions be performed in a certified ambulatory surgical center (ASC). Supporters argue the legislation would make abortions safer, while opponents say the added cost to upgrade and maintain existing abortion clinics as ASCs would shutter all but five statewide.
"This is a small but important step toward the beginning of the end of abortion in America," said pastor Rick Scarborough of Vision America, a Christian activist organization which has awarded Santorum as a National Hero of Faith. Scarborough disputed whether a legal abortion is a constitutional right, calling the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade a "shameless plot" by the majority justices.
Yet asked whether restricting abortion altogether is the end goal of such policy, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas) suggested each lawmaker may have his or her own opinion on the issue. Santorum argued questioning lawmakers' motivations distracted from what the bill actually does.
"There are merits to the two major things that this bill does. They should be done," said Santorum. "We will have debates about other issues at other times, but this is about a very important step."
"No matter what our feelings would be, it's not a backdoor ban on abortion," state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) stepped in. "It is a front door to women's health."
With more than two weeks left in the special session, Democrats can't rely on a filibuster to block the legislation. At a rally Wednesday in Fort Worth, Davis conceded the battle is likely over.
"I think it is," Davis told sister station WFAA. "I do believe it will immediately followed by legal action to enjoin the enforcement of the law."
While both sides acknowledge a legal battle is imminent, Democrats say Republicans should heed as a warning the emotional protests that have echoed through the Texas Capitol over the past month.
"I believe that we've touched a raw political nerve that has not been tapped before, and that's younger people," said state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). "And we're going to see a manifestation of that in future elections."
After clearing a Senate committee Thursday morning, HB 2 will head to the Senate floor for debate Friday afternoon. Dewhurst vowed the bill would be sent to the governor Friday, and warned any disruptions would be dealt with swiftly.
"We're going to have strict enforcement. If there are any demonstrations, we're going to clear the gallery," said Dewhurst. "Because this is a democracy, we're going to not be interrupted in doing the people's work by unruly mobs."
"As long as citizens see that the rules are being abided by, then we will have proper decorum," said West. "When they saw that the rules of the Senate were not being abided by, that's when they decided to react the way they did."