By Lisa Maria Garza
DALLAS (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry made a highly personal criticism on Thursday of the state senator who thwarted a Republican proposal to restrict abortion, saying she had not learned from her own experience as a teenage mother born to a single mother.
In a speech to the largest anti-abortion group in the United States, Perry also accused abortion rights supporters and Democrat Wendy Davis, who talked for more than 10 hours on Tuesday to block the abortion bill, of hijacking the democratic process.
"It's just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example, that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters," Perry said to a standing ovation from some 300 anti-abortion activists.
Growing up in a single-parent household, Davis worked after school from age 14 to help support her mother and siblings, and by 19, was a single mother herself. She attended a community college in Fort Worth, Texas, then graduated from Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School.
Asked about his comments after the speech, Perry said, "What if her mom had said, 'You know, I don't want to do this?'"
Davis responded in a statement: "Rick Perry's statement is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds. They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view."
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which represents the nation's largest abortion provider, also blasted Perry.
"Rick Perry's remarks are incredibly condescending and insulting to women. ... Women are perfectly capable of deciding whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child, and they don't need Rick Perry's help making that decision."
But Zonya Townsend, 56, a registered nurse from California who was in the audience for Perry's speech on Thursday, said she agreed with his criticism of Davis.
"She was given the right to live so you would think she'd make the correlation and support the right God has given us," Townsend said.
During the speech, Perry also vowed that Texas would pass the bill opposed by Davis and the Democrats banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The political fight in Texas is the latest in a national battle over abortion restrictions. If the Texas Republican plan passes, it would be the 13th state, and by far the most populous, to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
A new poll on Thursday showed the American public narrowly supports a ban on abortions after 20 weeks except for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, with 48 percent in favor of a ban, 44 percent opposed and 8 percent unsure. Fifty percent of women surveyed supported such a ban, according to the poll published in the National Journal. It surveyed 1,005 adults from June 20 to 23 and has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.
The Republican governor said Wednesday that lawmakers will return to the state capitol for a second special legislative session starting July 1, in part to consider the abortion bill.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of abortion rights supporters chanted and shouted from the gallery as majority Republicans managed to stop Davis' filibuster and pass the bill by a vote of 19 to 10. But the measure was not signed into law until after the midnight deadline for the end of the special session.
"What we witnessed Tuesday was nothing more than the hijacking of the democratic process," said Perry, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and the nation's longest-serving governor. "This is simply too important a cause to allow unruly actions of a few to stand in its way."
Perry was forced to exit the Republican race for president last year after several gaffes including one debate when he lost his train of thought and could not recall which government departments he wanted to abolish.
Davis has won praise from abortion rights and women's groups for standing up to Perry and the Republican majority in Texas, and her filibuster was streamed live online. Even before that, there was speculation about her becoming a future candidate for governor in a state that has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in two decades.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Eric Walsh)