AUSTIN, Texas—Pro-abortion and pro-life supporters stood shoulder to shoulder inside the rotunda of Austin’s Capitol yesterday, while the constant din of chanting echoed throughout the building.
“Pray. You’ll need it. Your cause will be defeated,” yelled pro-abortion supporters, who wore orange, while blue-clad pro-lifers stood silent inside the roped-off center circle, praying or holding handmade signs. One woman held a crucifix above a clutter of pro-abortion signs, such as the one depicting a woman’s vagina and the words: “Come and take it.”
Evelyn Hildebrand, 19, part of the national organization Students for Life of America, knelt in prayer with arms raised and eyes closed amid a cluster of other praying students near the edge of the circle. Pro-abortion advocates continued shouting, stomping, and clapping around them. Other pro-lifers positioned themselves throughout the Capitol, standing in line for hours in the orange-and-blue procession to the Senate gallery.
The thousands who came to support or protest the bill banning abortion after 20 weeks knew it would ultimately pass. But they came out anyway in hopes that their voices would influence a growing movement of pro-life legislation around the country.
Republicans passed the bill 19-11 just before midnight Friday, with all but one Democrat voting against it. The measure passed the House earlier this week and now heads to Gov. Rick Perry, who has pledged to sign it.
In addition to banning abortion after 20 weeks, the bill will require abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and require all abortions to take place in surgical centers. Only five out of Texas' 42 existing abortion clinics meet the surgical center requirements, and many clinic owners say they can't afford to upgrade or relocate, so they’ll have to close their doors.
The largely partisan debate over the bill, which dragged on for 10 hours, centered on amendments that excepted cases of rape and incest, set aside more money for families who adopt foster children, and would have given doctors leeway in prescribing abortion-inducing drugs. Republican Senators ultimately voted down all 20 proposed amendments.
"Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life,” Perry said in a statement released after the vote. “This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women's health.”
As Perry, who called two special sessions so the bill could pass, promised to sign the bill into law, pro-abortion supporters also made a promise: They will challenge the measure in court.
"There will be a lawsuit. I promise you," Dallas Sen. Royce West said on the Senate floor, raising his right hand as if taking an oath.
The state troopers positioned at each doorway and throughout the rotunda’s three stories, kept close watch on the circus-like throng outside the Senate chamber. Everyone inside the building had to pass through metal detectors to enter, and security officers checked their bags. State troopers reported confiscating bottles of urine, feces, and tampons that pro-abortion supporters tried to bring in with them. They allowed protestors to chant as loud as they wanted, but forbid them from throwing anything.
Despite fears of violence and massive arrests, only six had to be taken into custody. Four of those arrested were women who tried to chain themselves to a railing in the gallery while singing, "All we are saying is give choice a chance." One of the women successfully chained herself, leading to a 10-minute recess.
Pro-life supporters, though slightly outnumbered, stood their ground inside the rotunda, holding up signs offering help to women who have already had abortions. One girl, 14-year-old Katrina Druffner, held up a sign she drew herself, depicting a child inside the womb at 20 weeks. “Mommy, will it hurt? Abortion is a painful death,” the sign read. By 7 p.m., Druffner had stood inside the Capitol for eight hours waiting for her spot in the Senate gallery.
“Everybody needs a voice, even the unborn, and I believe that we’re here to be their voices,” she said. “Every baby has a right to be born.”