More than 700 people signed up to testify against a bill that would eviscerate abortion rights in Texas.
Hundreds of people gathered in Austin, Texas on Thursday and waited into the early hours of the next morning to testify against a bill that would impose a host of harsh restrictions on abortions and shutter all but five clinics in the state.
Activists called for the “people’s filibuster” after Texas Gov. Rick Perry put the restrictions, which had failed to advance through either the state House or Senate, onto the agenda of a legislative special session. Because certain procedural rules were suspended during the session, Democratic state senators were powerless to stop a companion bill to the two House measures to restrict abortion access from being approved.
People came “from all over the state, lots of men, young and old, doctors, nurses, teachers, it ran the gamut of the full spectrum of the population of the state,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas told MSNBC. The state chapter organized the people’s filibuster “in about a day and a half,” Busby said.
Those who signed up to testify in three-minute increments waited as long as twelve hours for their turn to speak. Witnesses spoke until well after 3 a.m., although shortly after midnight Rep. Byron Cook, the chair of the House State Affairs committee, tried to end public testimony. He said that the testimony of the women and men who stood to speak had become “repetitive.” Texas State Troopers also escorted one young woman from the podium.
“Texas already has some of the most onerous regulations for abortion facilities in the country,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an organization that runs five women’s clinics in the state. She said new restrictions will disproportionately affect women of color and those that do not live in urban areas. “You’re going to have only five clinics in urban settings, Roe is essentially not going to be relevant for a huge number of people,” Hagstrom Miller told MSNBC. “I hate being a test case, but I don’t know what’s going to happen here.”
Texas is one of a number of states crossing constitutional boundaries with new restrictions. One of the measures included in the bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks, and another would require all doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the procure is performed.
The State Affairs committee met Friday to discuss the Senate’s bill; after it advances to the full state House, it is certain to pass.