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Thousands rally against Texas abortion bill on first day of new special session

Mike Stone / Reuters

Protesters hold signs and cheer during a protest before the start of a special session of the Legislature in Austin, Texas, on July 1.

The Texas Capitol became the center of America's abortion debate again on Monday as thousands of demonstrators were on hand to voice opposition to Republican-backed legislation that would dramatically limit abortion rights in the state.

The protests came at the start of a special legislative session called by Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry after a bill that would have essentially ban most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy was halted last week.

The effort was led by Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis, who became a national icon for abortion-rights advocates after standing for hours to filibuster the legislation.

Related: Rising political star Wendy Davis

"Less than a week ago you were at the crux of a turning point in Texas history, you joined the ranks of brave men and women who love this state and fought for their liberties and preserving Texas values," Davis told thousands gathered on the steps of the state capitol in Austin, Texas, on Monday.  Many wore orange and held "Stand With Wendy" signs.

Eric Gay / AP

Anti-abortion supporters and pro-abortion rights supporters crowd into the rotunda of the Texas capitol, on July 1, in Austin, Texas.

"It was your voices lent to me that made it possible for me to stand those 13 hours," she said.

Also on hand to support Davis was Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and actress Lisa Edelstein.

On the final day of a legislative session, Davis held the floor for over ten hours to prevent a vote on the controversial bill.

Texas Republicans attempted to use parliamentary maneuvers to pass the bill before the session came to a close, but protestors in the gallery shouted so loudly that the lawmakers were unable to hear and the could not pass the bill before the midnight deadline. 

Opponents of the bill view it as a way for Republicans to cripple abortion clinics in the deeply conservative state. Supporters say the measure is an important one to protect the health of women.

A smaller group of the proposed law's supporters were also on hand, many wearing blue and singing "Amazing Grace."

Perry and Texas Republicans have vowed to pass the bill. 

"We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do," Perry said in a statement announcing a second special legislative session.    

The abortion bill on Monday was referred to committees for public hearings before the legislature recessed for the week. There will be no action on the bill until at least July 9.