American-Statesman reporters answered readers’ questions about the abortion debate at the Texas Legislature during an online chat Monday. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
I was there for most of it and it was a first for me. Can you tell me what a normal special session is like or if this one was normal, aside from the number of people who turned up?
The turnout for the hearings and the protests was really unprecedented and that changed the tenor of the special session. If you look at how the transportation funding measure has been received, that will you give you a good indication of what a normal session looks like.
Obviously this was a very unique amount of public participation. Do you think it will result in increased voter turnout, or is November 2014 too far away (and not enough close races on paper)?
Abortion rights supporters are certainly hoping so. Battleground Texas was at the Capitol handing out voter registration forms and many protesters I talked to said they planned to take their opinions to the polls.
Were there any incidences of violence or altercations between anti/pro protesters (not between protesters and DPS)? I did not see or hear about any, which is fantastic if true.
No confrontation between the orange and blue shirts. There was some booing from the opposition when some blue shirts left the gallery but otherwise it was all pretty civil.
Isn’t the 20-week ban unconstitutional? Or can individual states decide the threshold?
Previous constitutional questions have focused on viability of the fetus, which is why Texas has prohibited abortions at around 24 weeks. The pain issue moves beyond viability by trying to establish a significant state interest (needed when a right is limited) in protecting fetuses capable of feeling pain. That’s a two-sentence explanation of a very complicated legal/constitutional set of issues.
Do you anticipate this will get as far as the Supreme Court?
Law professors and legal experts say they expect the 20-week ban to make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I did not hear the testimonies given at the public hearings, but did any testimony include women who have had problematic abortions that were life-threatening that would have benefited from this bill?
There was quite a lot of testimony from women who regretted earlier abortions because of emotional and physical scars. There also were a lot of women who testified that previous abortions were essential to their well-being, or someone they knew.
How can it be a “war on women” when there are women voting for the bill?
Sen. Jane Nelson, a Republican, said that she disputes the war on women comments. Others have called abortion a war on babies. But the phrasing obviously resonates with certain voters, and I expect it to be part of the conversation for some time to come.
I’ve heard some folks suggest the Senate Democrats should have skipped out to break quorum. My understanding is that this would have had no effect because of no 2/3 rule AND they would have been stripped of seniority. Are both those true?
Breaking quorum is a pretty serious move, requiring them to hide from officers that can, shall we say, compel their attendance. Democrats I talked to didn’t see it as viable for this debate, expressing confidence that the expected court challenge will succeed.
How politically wounded is (Lt. Gov. David) Dewhurst? Even if the bill passed, he seemed to make enemies on both sides.
This whole episode was a certainly a blemish for Dewhurst, and that comes on the heels of his defeat in the U.S. Senate race and revelations that a campaign manager has been accused of stealing millions from his campaign accounts. But he has lots of personal money to spend (on his re-election) so it’s tough to count him out.