AUSTIN, Texas – Thousands of orange-clad demonstrators packed the halls and grounds of the Texas Capitol on Monday to sing, chant and shout their opposition to sweeping new abortion limits the Republican-led Legislature was all but certain to pass after failing to do so before the clock ran out on the legislative session that ended last week.

It was the largest demonstration at the Capitol in recent memory, with the Department of Public Safety pegging the crowd size at about 3,000 by mid-morning and The Associated Press later estimating it had grown to at least 5,000 participants.

Scattered among the sea of orange were clusters of blue-clad counter-demonstrators who prayed, clutched crosses, sang and watched the debate from the Senate gallery, but they were far outnumbered by opponents of the legislation.

The stakes and fervor on both sides have only gotten higher in the six days since midnight protesters and the filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis ran out the clock on senators about to approve the new abortion limits. Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for another special session with abortion on the top of the agenda.

“You were at the crux of a turning point in Texas history,” said Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat catapulted into the national spotlight with her filibuster last week. “Today is different,” she added, as the crowd chanted “Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!” “Don’t you feel it? We feel hope.”

Lawmakers completed their regular session May 27 but Perry called a 30-day special session that ran through midnight June 25.

Davis strapped on her running shoes and stood for more than 12 hours, trying to talk until the clock ran out on the bill. Senate Republicans used parliamentary tactics to silence her eventually, but hundreds of protesters in the gallery screamed and cheered so much that all work on the floor below halted until it was too late.

Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst dismissed last week’s protesters as an “unruly mob,” and many in Monday’s crowd wore T-shirts that read “unruly mob.”

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the San Antonio Democrat whose pointed question last week sparked the raucous cheering, told Monday’s protesters that the issue was personal.

“Ladies, would you like to have your next OB-GYN exam on the Senate floor?” Van de Putte asked, to which the crowds shouted back no. “Then politicians shouldn’t be making women’s health decisions for us.”

Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines, a Texan who famously took a public swipe at then-President George W. Bush over the Iraq war in 2003, sang the national anthem and the song she wrote in response to backlash to her comment to Bush, “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice.”


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