By WILL WEISSERT
AUSTIN, Texas — One year after a filibuster attracted national attention and gave them a rare but brief Texas victory, abortion-rights supporters have struggled to recapture momentum in a conservative state where political battles usually don’t go their way.
The thousands of orange-clad protesters, who for weeks last summer voiced their opposition to sweeping new abortion restrictions statewide, haven’t mobilized on nearly that scale since.
Even Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, who laced up pink sneakers and stood on the floor of the Senate chamber for more than 12 hours leading the cause, has pivoted to less-divisive campaign talking points as she seeks to woo voters in her uphill bid for governor.
“With every movement you have ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys. We’re kind of in a valley now,” said Tiffani Bishop, co-state lead organizer for GetEqual Texas, a gay rights group among the dozens of organizations that mobilized abortion-rights demonstrators last summer.
The abortion law later was passed overwhelmingly. Bishop said if there was another filibuster, protesters would return in even greater numbers — but since there hasn’t been a subsequent unifying force, “all that momentum has shifted.”
Still, that frantic Tuesday night wasn’t all about the filibuster. With the midnight deadline looming on June 25, 2013, Davis’ political soliloquy had been stopped and a law authorizing the restrictions was about to pass when Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte jockeyed with other lawmakers to be heard.
“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” Van de Putte demanded, sending protesters who had packed the Capitol into a frenzy so deafening that work stopped and the clock ran out on the bill.
Van de Putte, now running for lieutenant governor, says she still feels the anger that boiled over then.
“What I said was out of pure frustration but it wasn’t just the bill, it was, ‘What is it going to take for you guys to listen to us women?'” she said. “And even now, people around Texas, even outside Texas, they come up to me and go ‘What’s it going to take?'”
Van De Putte concedes that the issue since hasn’t dominated her campaign or Davis’, but said, “I think people know where we stand.”
Heather Frederick, a demonstrator from last summer who is a patient and peer advocate at an abortion clinic and domestic violence center, said “being at the Capitol for such an extended period of time took a lot out of people.”
“I think there are those who are disheartened that such a large group didn’t have more of an effect,” Frederick said.
Davis, who became a rising Democratic star and saw her sneakers and #standwithwendy hashtag cause a stir nationally, has now even been accused of flip-flopping. She said in February that she’d support, in most cases, banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy — a key component of the law she stood against.
And, while she’s used the filibuster anniversary as a fundraising tool, Davis also now characterizes her actions as about more than just one topic, saying it showed Texans “that their voices matter … not only on issues of reproductive rights but it matters on so many other issues.”
Both Davis and Van De Putte are aware, though, their filibuster roles helped catapult them the top of Texas’ Democratic ticket — just the fifth time in at least the past 20 years that a party has nominated women for both governor and lieutenant governor.
None of previous incarnations were elected, however. Davis faces long odds in her race against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Van De Putte is an underdog against tea party-backed Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick.
Some abortion-rights activists say opposition to the law has grown since it was implemented Nov. 1. In addition to banning abortions after 20 weeks, it requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers and mandates that doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Women’s Health, says 21 licensed abortion facilities have closed because of the law, leaving 20 open in America’s second most-populous state. The Department of State Health Services says 10 clinics have closed since the law actually took effect and 22 remain open — though three others plan to close or no longer provide abortions.
And Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, maintains that last year’s demonstrations “awakened a sleeping giant.”
“We have not seen any slowing of interest and engaged activism,” Busby said. “When we say, ‘Dust off your orange’ they show up.'”