AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — About 300 abortion rights activists braved a downpour so they could gather in front of the Texas Capitol late Monday and protest sweeping new restrictions on abortion that state lawmakers approved last week.
The event, which also featured a march through downtown Austin, paled in comparison to similar demonstrations that drew thousands to the Legislature previously, an outpouring of activism not seen in Texas in at least a generation. Still, demonstrators sang what has become an abortion rights anthem locally: Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Many carried homemade signs with messages that poked fun at Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican-controlled Legislature, but they exchanged them for umbrellas when the rain became more intense.
Addressing the crowd before the march, former state Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower said of members of the Legislature: “They forgot an old Texas refrain that I grew up with: ‘If Mama ain’t happy, no one’s happy.’
“Well mama ain’t happy,” he said.
On Friday, the Legislature passed an omnibus measure giving Texas some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws. The vote came just before midnight and as thousands of protesters on both sides of the issue filled the Capitol.
Monday’s Austin rally came as part of the National Day of Action that featured similar events in several cities. In downtown Dallas, about 200 people staged a protest, also amid rainy skies.
“Enough people were radicalized by this that we’re going to fight until it’s overturned,” said Natalie Johnson, an organizer with Dallas Reproductive Justice, a group that organized the event there. Nearby, a few dozen abortion opponents held a counter-protest, with signs containing pictures of aborted fetuses.
Democrats have promised to file legal challenges to the bill which, after it’s signed by Perry, would ban abortions after 20 weeks, require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and mandate that all abortions take place in surgical centers.
Only five out of Texas’ 42 existing abortion clinics meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they cannot afford to upgrade or relocate.
But tension really has been building since last month, when Perry put the bill on lawmakers’ agenda during a 30-day special legislative session he convened after the regular session ended May 27.
On the last day to pass legislation, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) staged a marathon, one-woman filibuster to block the abortion proposal. When she was silenced on parliamentary technicalities, hundreds of abortion rights activists raised such a raucous from the public gallery that lawmakers stopped work until it was too late.
Perry, though, called the Legislature back for a second special session, setting up Friday’s approval.
“We’re all Wendys now in Texas!” Hightower said Monday. He is perhaps best known in political circles for being defeated in 1990 by Perry, then a state representative who had recently switched parties and become a Republican.
Associated Press writer Uriel J. Garcia contributed to this report from Dallas.