Texas House committee approves abortion rules
Supporters of an abortions bill gather outside of a hearing for the bill at the state capitol, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers back for another special session with abortion on the top of the agenda. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Opponents of an abortion bill walk in circles around supporters of the bill as a committee holds hearings on the bill near by at the Texas state capitol, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers back for another special session with abortion on the top of the agenda. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Republicans voted early yesterday to move forward with new abortion restrictions, after limiting testimony at a public hearing, refusing to consider Democratic amendments and imposing strict security precautions to prevent disruptions from protesting abortion-rights supporters.
On a party-line vote, the Republican majority sent the bill to the full Texas House for a vote next week. Gov. Rick Perry is pushing his allies in the legislature to move quickly after he called lawmakers back for a second special session to pass the bill, which would limit when, where and how women may obtain an abortion in the state.
More than 3,500 people came to the capitol and registered a position on the bill, most of them against the bill, and more than 1,100 signed up to testify. But fewer than 100 people had a chance to express their views because the top Republican on the committee limited testimony to eight hours and refused entreaties to extend it.
The Senate has scheduled a Monday morning hearing on a separate but identical bill. Supporters are planning a rally outside the capitol Monday night.
“We took testimony in the regular session, in the first special. We’ve taken a lot of testimony,” said House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook, a Republican, in explaining his decision to cut off testimony.
But Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat who is among the state’s more senior lawmakers, asked for more time for testimony.
“The people have the right to come here, and they have the right to be heard,” Turner said.
Just before the committee’s vote, Turner tried to offer amendments to the bill, but Cook refused to recognize him or any other Democrat.
“You can bring it up on the (House) floor,” Cook said.
Turner replied angrily to Cook, cutting him off: “You know that’s just wrong!”
When the hearing began, the corridors were filled with equal numbers of bill supporters, wearing blue, and opponents, wearing orange, but as the night wore on the orange T-shirts became the majority. In some cases, bill opponents marched in circles around anti-abortion activists. There were no arrests or violent incidents reported.
Local pizza shops delivered hundreds of pizzas and drinks to the crowd, and organizers registered people to vote and collected email lists.
The debate over the abortion restrictions has brought the public to the capitol like no other issue in at least a decade. About 700 of the bill’s opponents showed up for a hearing during the first special session, and thousands filled the capitol on that session’s final day to support Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis’s filibuster.
After that session ended and the bill failed, Perry called the legislature back, forcing lawmakers to start again from scratch with committee hearings.
House Bill 2 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require that the procedure be performed at ambulatory surgical centers, mandate that doctors who perform abortions obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and that even nonsurgical abortions take place in a surgical center.