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Texas has banned almost all abortions — but it's taken decades

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Now that the Supreme Court says abortion is not a constitutional right, access to the procedure will disappear in many states. Not Texas - abortion was already severely restricted there, and that's something that has been years in the making. Here is the Texas Newsroom's Sergio Martinez-Beltran.

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: It was June 25, 2013, a Tuesday. And this was all over the news.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Crowds who came out to support a nearly 11-hour filibuster by Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis erupted in screams.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: With one day left in a special session of the Texas legislature, Davis took to the floor and spoke for those 11 hours to prohibit the bill from passing - no bathroom breaks, no snacks, nothing. Davis remembers the day.

WENDY DAVIS: And what was so beautiful and profound was that the Capitol just kept filling up and filling up.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: She read letters from women who had abortions, and with the support of her Democratic colleagues and hundreds of supporters in the Senate gallery, Davis accomplished what she wanted.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If I can have order, we will suspend the roll call vote until we can get order in the chamber.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: By the time senators voted, time had run out. Davis says that moment was pivotal for abortion rights and democracy in Texas.

DAVIS: It was the first time I had ever seen that level of engaged citizenry involved in a debate that would have, of course, very meaningful consequences in their lives and the lives of every Texan.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: That victory, however, was short-lived. Just a few weeks later, in another special session, Texas lawmakers passed a sweeping anti-abortion package that included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually struck down key provisions of the bill, but by then, more than half of the state's abortion providers closed. The story of how Texas got to this place of banning nearly all abortions is one that has taken decades.

AMY O'DONNELL: We've seen a lot of incremental gains over time.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: This is Amy O'Donnell, the communications director of the Texas Alliance for Life, a group that advocates against abortion.

O'DONNELL: The majority of Texans are pro-life, and we see this because they elect pro-life legislators who advocate for life.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But polls tell a different story. Seventy-eight percent of Texas voters support some sort of access to abortion. Only 15% said it should never be allowed. That's according to a survey released in April by the Texas Politics Project. Despite that, the state has continued curbing abortion, including passing a so-called trigger law, which now takes effect in 30 days. Most recently, last year, Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 8. That law, the first of its kind in the country, banned abortions as early as six weeks, empowering private citizens to enforce the law. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, O'Donnell says the state will work to support women who are pregnant.

O'DONNELL: Texas is ready to take care of women in our state. And as we've seen, Texas prioritized the health of women and the life of babies.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: She points to the state's program called Alternatives to Abortion as an example of that. The program provides assistance, counselling and maternity classes. But it's also been criticized by Texas Democrats for its $100-million price tag and lack of transparency. But advocates for abortion rights say they're not completely hopeless.

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ERIKA FORBES: I believe that God is on our side.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: This is Erika Forbes, a reverend who sued Texas over SB 8.

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FORBES: Which is why I speak for the generation to come when I say we will not stop fighting for our right for abortion and abortion care. We will fight until hell freezes over, and then we will fight on the ice.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Forbes says abortion rights advocates will be relentless and unstoppable.

For NPR News, I'm Sergio Martinez-Beltran in Austin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán | The Texas Newsroom
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