AUSTIN –– Props and graphic testimony highlighted the beginning hours of the Texas House’s debate on sweeping abortion legislation Tuesday, the first day that HB 2 reached the floor.
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, authored the legislation, which would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, regulate when women take abortion pills and mandate that the procedure be performed in a surgical center.
Critics have said that its passage would mean 37 of the state’s 42 clinics that offer abortions would shutter because they’d be unable to meet the new requirements. Laubenberg has dismissed that as purely hypothetical and has said she will not accept amendments to her bill.
On Tuesday, mostly Democratic lawmakers brought their amendments to the floor. And as of 2:30 p.m., all nine had been either tabled or withdrawn. The testimony started quickly and intensely, with Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D – Houston, urging her colleagues to pass an amendment allowing abortions after 20 weeks in the case of rape and incest.
Flanked by Democratic colleagues and wearing a bejeweled pendant in the shape of a clothes hanger on her lapel, Thompson brought a a knitting needle, a feather, an actual clothes hanger and a bottle of turpentine to represent illegal abortions.
“Have you thought about how you drive women back to the coat hanger days, when the illegal abortions took place?” Thompson asked.
Watch the House's discussion live via the Texas Tribune's YouTube channel below:
Laubenberg didn’t budge. She laid out her bill while holding a pair of baby’s shoes. She told Thompson that her amendment was unacceptable because a fetus at five months can feel pain. She then graphically described the act of an abortion.
Rep. Joseph Moody, D – El Paso, attempted to compromise, asking Laubenberg whether she would allow abortions at 23 weeks, 22 weeks or even 21 weeks. Rep. Terry Canales, D – Edinburg, pounded the podium and asked Laubenberg whether she considers a pregnancy by way of rape or incest an “ongoing assault.”
“I’m moving to table this amendment based on at five months the baby will feel the pain of the abortion,” Laubenberg said.
Rep. Sarah Davis, R – Houston, who represents the state’s largest city’s medical district, attempted to pass a similar amendment allowing abortions after 20 weeks in the case of rape or incest, severe fetal abnormality, or if the mother’s life was at risk.
“Now is not the time to play political football with women,” Davis said. “Now is the time to pass good policy, good pro-life policy.”
Laubenberg rejected her amendment along with another that would have stripped the bill of everything but the ban of abortions after 20 weeks. She also swatted down an amendment that would have compensated women in rural areas who would have to travel a long distance to receive an abortion should a clinic near them shut down under the weight of the requirements.
“The abortion procedure is elective,” Laubenberg said.
The day’s heated beginning was perhaps to be expected, as the bill is widely despised among women’s rights groups and Democratic lawmakers. A similar bill was filibustered on the final day of the last special session by Sen. Wendy Davis, D – Fort Worth, prompting Gov. Rick Perry to call the Legislature back.
Thousands have protested the legislation at the Capitol in recent weeks. Supporters of the bill often don blue shirts while the burnt orange masses stand against it. On Tuesday, Rep. Charlie Geren, R – Fort Worth, had to repeatedly request the gallery be quiet during the debate.
The Associated Press reported that security at the Capitol has "at least doubled" to handle the crowds: Senators during the last special session could not hear themselves over the screaming, chanting masses to take a vote on the abortion bill. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst credited an "uruly mob" with the bill's failure.
On Monday, Sen. Jane Nelson, R – Flower Mound, told News 8 sister station KVUE that about 3,800 people left testimony with the Texas Senate’s Health and Human Services committee to speak about the senate’s version of the abortion bill, SB 1. Most sent in written testimony or position cards. It took about 16 hours for the roughly 500 speakers to finish their two-minutes in front of the committee.
“I have been in the Texas Senate for 20 years, I have never seen anything like this. I am so impressed with the numbers that came on both sides,” Nelson told KVUE.
Nelson said the committee will wait for the Republican-controlled House to vote on its version of the abortion bill. Should it pass, the committee will pass on its recommendation for a vote.
However, as the Associated Press reported, it's not clear whether the bill will be able to stand in court should it pass and be challenged:
Critics also say the Texas restrictions and those passed by other states conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 Roe v. Wade decision, which established that a woman has the right to get an abortion until her fetus could viably survive outside of the womb, which is generally at 22 to 24 weeks of the pregnancy.
It's unclear if the Texas restrictions could survive a court challenge. Federal courts have suspended aspects of the bill passed by other states. On Monday, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin abortion law requiring admitting privileges.
The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology oppose the bill, calling it unnecessary.
The debate will continue throughout the afternoon.
The Associated Press and KVUE's Jessica Vess and Kenneth Null contributed to this report