Robert Rivard

If the Texas Republican Taliban has its way, there will be public whippings in the plaza of Planned Parenthood workers, re-education camps for women seeking abortions, and textbooks in the public schools teaching the ultra-conservative version of family values.

Is there anything more bizarre than Gov. Rick Perry summoning the Texas Legislature to meet in special session — which implies emergency state business — so a male-dominated political machine can bully anti-abortion legislation into law that society in general and women in particular clearly do not want?

The effort flies in the face of federal law protecting women’s right to choice and credible polls measuring public sentiment on the subject.

The special session originally was called to address highway funding and redistricting, but once Perry called back legislators he played the anti-abortion card, betting he could restart an initiative that busted in the regular session.

Never underestimate the political aspirations of Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a phalanx of other conservative Republicans who have felt the whip of the tea party and evangelical extremists, and have eagerly agreed to meet them on the far margins of the political spectrum.

This special session is not about you. It’s about them. Oh, Perry, Dewhurst and others mouth the party’s official talking point: this is about protecting women’s and children’s health, whatever that means, given the party’s consistent efforts to undermine Children’s Protective Services and other state-funded social services. But a message sent on Twitter by Dewhurst Wednesday stated the real reason: it’s all about ending abortion in Texas. The tweet even linked to a map of targeted Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Read more here from Texas Public Radio.

This bill is about the political ambitions of Perry and Dewhurst. Both covet higher office. Both suffered humiliating political defeats in the last election cycle. Perry earned the dunce’s cap on national television as he floundered in Republican primary debates before pulling out after racking up single digit returns at the polls. Dewhurst and his own seemingly bottomless pit of millions couldn’t beat a tea party neophyte named Ted Cruz who now occupies the U.S. Senate seat coveted by the lieutenant governor.

Passing one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws in Texas is not about the health and welfare of women in Texas. It’s all about the next political cycle and making sure there is record to run on the next time fringe voters convene for the Republican primaries.

Last week was an extraordinary lesson in pseudo-democracy. If anyone thinks public hearings are really about officeholders listening to citizens, rather than necessary exercises letting the rabble blow off steam, consider the actions of the House State Affairs Committee and its chairman, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, Thursday evening and into the early morning hours Friday. Read the Texas Tribune coverage of the hearing here.

Hundreds of citizens signed up to speak at the hearing, waiting hours and hours on their feet for the opportunity to be heard. Cook abruptly ended the hearing around 4 a.m. with hundreds of people still waiting to participate. When the crowd responded with a chorus of verbal protests, Cook called in state troopers to stand guard as the committee vacated the room. Cook was convinced to return and re-open the hearing, but Friday morning the committee approved House Bill 60, the counterpart legislation, Senate Bill 5 , and a separate  House Bill 16, which would outlaw any abortion at 20 weeks gestation.

UPDATE: The Texas House will debate SB5 and HB60 Sunday afternoon at the Texas Capitol. House Gallery doors open at 1 p.m. Debate begins at 2 p.m. and is expected to last for several hours before the voting.

If a bill passes before the special session ends Tuesday evening and is signed into law by Perry, women’s rights groups say many of the state’s existing clinics will be forced to close. Physicians allowed to perform abortions will be limited by new restrictions requiring them have local hospital privileges and to perform the procedure only in ambulatory surgical centers.

The impact of such legislation in San Antonio, inevitably, will be to further limit access to women’s health services, especially for the economically disadvantaged. More children will be born to teen mothers out-of-wedlock. If the 20 week gestation bill passes, more fetuses identified as having major congenital deformities will be carried to full term.

The Express-News reported that teen pregnancies declined in 2012 in Bexar County, according to Metro Health statistics released last month, yet still are nearly 50% more than the national average. Last year there were 2,713 teen births in the county, although the latest figures on the Metro Health website are from 2010-11. Some pages on the site are not functional, and few pages provide young women important family planning information.

The Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is running a campaign, “Tell Rick Perry women are not stupid” that allows individuals who oppose the legislation to send their elected representatives a statement protesting the legislation.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

Related Stories:

Gov. Perry Pushes Anti-Abortion Legislation in Special Session

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In Defense of All Marriages

Gay Marriage: Is Texas Postponing the Inevitable?

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Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.