AUSTIN — This time when the Texas Senate takes up tough new abortion restrictions, the chamber's top Republican is determined not to let anything — or anyone — derail a vote.
The Senate's leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has scheduled a vote for Friday on the same restrictions on when, where and how women may obtain abortions in Texas that failed to become law after a Democratic filibuster and raucous protesters were able to run out the clock on an earlier special session.
Hundreds of activists from both sides of the debate lined the state Capitol's halls more than four hours before the Senate debate was scheduled to begin Friday. They were met by dozens of extra police officers guarding the gallery and holding down the hallways. For those who break the rules, the Texas Constitution gives Dewhurst the authority to jail them for up to 48 hours, no court necessary.
"We're going to have strict enforcement. If there are any demonstrations, we are going to clear the gallery," Dewhurst said Thursday. "I hope we don't get to that point but if we do, we do. This is a democracy and we will not be interrupted from doing the people's work by an unruly mob."
Some arrived as early as 4:30 a.m. Friday and the crowds continued to line up at the security station to get in the building, with many sitting on the steps and some carrying folding camping chairs — despite signs at the Capitol barring camping equipment. As has been the case for the last two weeks, anti-abortion activists wore blue and abortion rights activists wore orange, with the latter dominant among the early crowd.
Among the first two in line were anti-abortion activist Johanna McCrary of Conroe and abortion rights activist Kristi Lara of Dallas. Both of them came to the Capitol after the June 25 filibuster and have been in Austin for more than a week. More than 5,000 people swarmed the Capitol last week to oppose the bill.