Public input limited as Texas anti-abortion bill comes back up for debate

Opponents of the Texas abortion bill yell chants outside a hearing at the state Capitol in Austin on Tuesday. Eric Gay / AP

Texas Republicans began trying again Tuesday to pass one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S. as thousands of people jammed the state Capitol in Austin for the first public hearing since a chaotic Democratic filibuster killed the measure two weeks ago.

More than 2,000 people signed up to testify before the House State Affairs Committee on the renewed measure, which is being considered again in Austin because Gov. Rick Perry called a second special legislative session after the bill failed June 25.

But the committee chose a room with only 64 seats for the day of public testimony, which began at 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) and was scheduled to end at midnight. The limited space meant few members of the public could attend, and only about 100 would be able to speak, even with the brief time limit of 3 minutes.

Public testimony ended just after midnight, and the committee voted 8-3 to approve the measure, the Texas Tribune reported early Wednesday.

The enormous crowd stayed inside the Capitol despite the selection of the small room, threatening to overwhelm police, before nine other rooms were set up so they could watch the hearing on closed-circuit TV, NBC station KPRC of Houston reported from Austin. One woman fainted amid the crush. 

Supporters and opponents of the Texas abortion bill gather in the Capitol for a hearing at the state Capitol in Austin on Tuesday. Eric Gay / AP

Supporters and opponents alike said they weren't going anywhere.

"My boys are adopted. They could have been aborted," Lori Lett of Crosby, northeast of Houston, told KPRC. 

"That's why I wanted to come," she said.

The Rev. Steve Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pflugerville, north of Austin, told NBC station KXAN of Austin that he and his supporters were "here to stay as long as we need to stay in order to have our voices heard."

"We're fighting for the lives of individuals," Washburn said. "They're tiny, but they're still individuals."

The full House is expected to take up the bill next week. The Senate has yet to take up the bill, but it's also expected to approve it.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat from Houston who opposes the measure, acknowledged that Republicans have the votes to pass it, but he vowed that his side would keep fighting.


"Regardless what happens on this particular bill, I think this discussion, this debate, this exercise is not over," Turner said.

It appeared that Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, were in position to do that late last month. But Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, launched an 11-hour filibuster against the bill in a final-day debate that delayed a Senate vote until after the deadline to end the legislative session.

Davis' epic speech was watched live by hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. on streaming video, turning her into a national figure who's already being touted as a possible future candidate for governor.

In a move that opponents said disregarded the will of the people, Perry, an ardent opponent of abortion, called the Legislature back for another special session this week to try again.

Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Davis said that "even if this bill passes, obviously there will be other challenges to it going forward."

A similar battle could be brewing in North Carolina, where the Senate gave preliminary approval to a measure Tuesday night that would require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as walk-in surgical centers to get licenses. 

It's believed that only one clinic in the state meets that requirement, The Charlotte Observer reported.

During a Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, several anti-abortion proposals were attached to a bill that would ban Islamic Sharia law in the state. Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, accused lawmakers of "trying to pull a Texas."

"It seems to me that they're trying to pass under cover of darkness legislation that would not otherwise be passed," she said.

The measure must still be approved again by the Senate before it goes to the House.


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