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Texas GOP skirts law on anti-abortion bill

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Thu July 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: Texas is trying every trick in the book to get an anti-abortion bill passed
  • Many oppose bill that would shut 90% of abortion clinics in state, she says
  • Hogue: GOP couldn't pass this bill in regular session, so governor called special session
  • Hogue: Texas bypassed legally mandated public hearings, tried to change time stamp of vote

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Watch her appearance this weekend at 8:30 AM ET on CNN's New Day Saturday.

(CNN) -- State Sen. Wendy Davis' stand in Texas was the "filibuster heard round the world" -- suddenly everywhere you look, you see news about one state or another rolling back reproductive rights.

Even as all eyes were on resumed hearings in Texas late Tuesday night, the North Carolina legislature was busy sneaking anti-choice measures into an unrelated bill, and Wednesday that bill passed the state Senate over the fierce objections of North Carolina women.

But the more I read about what is happening to women's rights, the less I see about how anti-choice lawmakers are passing these bills.

We're taught as kids that cheaters never win, but that lesson didn't sink in with Republican leaders in Texas and in many other states where these rights are under attack. Instead they've decided that if you don't have the people with you to pass a bill, you can just change the process.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

Take the Texas bill: a hodgepodge of arbitrary restrictions, it would close nearly 90% of the clinics that perform abortions in Texas, making it impossible for women across the state to access all sorts of medical care they need and deserve. It would also ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which compromises the moral and medical autonomy of women who need care.

Following on 12 other states that have enacted the unconstitutional ban, Texas Republicans are trying to put in place costly restrictions to solve a problem that doesn't exist: The number of abortions after 20 weeks is tiny (less than 2%) and are most often sought by women in desperate circumstances, exactly the kind of cases that require close attention by doctors, not sweeping prohibitions by ideological politicians.

Showdown over abortion in Texas
Perry: Filibuster senator was a teen mom

The Republicans couldn't pass this bill in regular session -- Texas law requires a two-thirds Senate majority for these measures, and the GOP simply didn't have it. So instead of building support the old-fashioned way for this radical legislation, Gov. Perry decided he'd just change the rules. He called a special session after the end of the normal legislative period, and his friend, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, declared they no longer needed a super majority vote.

What they didn't count on was opposition from citizens who knew the rules and wouldn't stand by while Republicans cheated. In the House, GOP committee members shut down legally mandated public hearings when witness after witness testified that they resented this intrusion into private, personal medical decisions; then committee members voted on the bill in a private room where the public couldn't see what they were doing.

And finally, in the move that earned them national disdain, they tried to use every dirty trick in the book to shut down Davis' historic talking filibuster in the final hours of this widely watched session.

They challenged the content of her speech. They cried crocodile tears about her receiving assistance to don a back brace. They ignored Democrats who were raising legitimate procedural questions. Republicans presiding over the debate recognized their fellow Republicans when Democrats had the floor.

One senator, Leticia Van de Putte, even had to ask: "At what point must a female senator raise her voice or hand to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?"

And then, after Texans watching in the gallery erupted in jeers at the strong-handed tactics Republicans were using, the GOP leadership held a vote after midnight, after the special session had officially ended. They then changed the time stamp on the official record of the vote, only changing it back after they were caught red-handed. That meant the bill was dead, so Gov. Rick Perry did what cheaters do when they lose -- he called for a do-over.

I wish I could say the tactics in Texas were the exception, but Republicans are using underhanded ploys like these to pass anti-choice bills all over the country.

In Ohio, Republicans sneaked a requirement for unnecessary ultrasounds into a budget bill, without holding public hearings. In North Carolina, they shut out testimony from pro-choice activists late in the night to move their draconian measures to the floor for a vote.

On Monday, I stood in the hot Austin sun with thousands of fellow Texans who share my outrage at this attack on our fundamental rights. But they didn't just cheer for Davis' stand to protect women's rights and health. They were there to celebrate the rule of democracy, rules that Republicans have shown they will change if it suits their political ends.

But changing the rules doesn't change the truth. I don't know what will happen at this next special session in Texas, but I do know that if Republicans cheat their way to victory in this battle, they are going to lose the war for the confidence of the people they seek to represent.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

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