The abortion debate in the House yesterday strengthened my longstanding conviction that this issue has done more harm to American politics than any other. It’s where our politics began to jump the rails because it is a fight that cannot be resolved. There is no middle ground. When there is no middle ground, politics cannot work. What is true of abortion is true of all the social issues: They can’t be debated. They can only be argued and argued and argued. That is not politics. Unfortunately, the social issues are where the energy is in politics these days. No debate over highways, or water, or crime, or even education, could motivate hundreds of people to go to the Capitol and sit for long hours in uncomfortable chairs, stand in the stairwells leading to the gallery, or clog the rotunda until it was hard to move. That’s the way it was yesterday. This being Travis County, it will come as no surprise that the spectators were overwhelmingly pro-choice.
Wildly outnumbered, the Democrats fought with the popgun arsenal at their disposal: points of order, parliamentary inquiries, and personal privilege speeches. Early in the afternoon, Sylvester Turner found a POO that killed the entire calendar, throwing the debate into gridlock for around two-and-a-half hours as members milled about in front of the speaker’s desk, thereby proving once again that D’s are superior to R’s at the parliamentary jousting that takes place in legislative politics.
Jodie Laubenberg, who is seldom involved in major issues, proved to be an effective lead author. She was very respectful of Democrats who offered amendments, none of which were accepted. She modulated her voice to a whisper at times, which elevated the seriousness of the debate. But the result was a foregone conclusion; the bill would pass, the amendments would be voted down. And that is what happened.
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The Democrats lost, as they were destined to do. But the question remains: Did they win by losing? By getting run over? This was but a skirmish in the never-ending battle between the pro-choice and pro-life factions. The pro-lifers won this round, at least on the parliamentary scoreboard, but there is always another round, and another scoreboard, and there is a larger world out there in which many people believe that there is a Republican “war against women.” Senate Bill 5 has become the next battlefield in this war, as it heads back to the Senate for final passage (as I’m writing this, the House is hearing SB 5 on third reading, and Ds are at the mic trying to slow the process down in the hope that the Senate Ds can kill the bill with a filibuster). Rick Perry and David Dewhurst very likely will be celebrating a victory tonight, but Democrats may be celebrating too; the more Republicans take actions that are anathema to younger women, the more we will hear from Democrats about the Republican War against Women. In the age of the Internet and the social media, it is impossible to build a wall around Texas. Remember Sid Miller, the author of last session’s dreadful sonogram bill? Where is he now? Out of the Legislature.
Photo via @naraltx.