“Are you against science?” asked Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Forth Worth), encapsulating Sunday evening’s Texas House debate over a bill that would eviscerate abortion access in the state.
As of press time, the House preliminarily passed the legislation 97-33. The bill is expected to move back to the Senate and be met with a filibuster from Democrats. The special session ends June 26, but the governor can call an unlimited number of those sessions.
A packed gallery of pro-choice advocates, dressed in orange to show solidarity, looked on below to the House floor where a fight between scientific fact and political ideology waged on into the night. The legislation outlaws abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, imposes restrictions on abortion doctors and abortion-related drugs, and forces clinics to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers, a requirement that would shutter all but five clinics in the state. But the bill isn’t supported by leading experts who argue the measures are unnecessary, unfounded and detrimental to women’s health.
After buying nearly six hours of time with procedural delays, Democrats began to painstakingly highlight the legislation’s dearth of peer-reviewed evidence and lack of support from the medical community, asking bill author Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) to produce any and all factual data to back up her claims.
Laubenberg mumbled out two studies, while House Democrats pointed to a major medical consensus which would seem to oppose the bill, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Brushing the entirety of the medical community’s recommendations aside, Laubenberg — who oftentimes seemed hazy about the contents of her own bill — continued to make the case that the legislation somehow improves “quality of care” for women.
But that’s not the real intention, Democrats and pro-choice advocates argue.
“The truth is that these bills aren’t about women’s health and they aren’t about the will of the people — they are about winning Republican primaries,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) to thunderous applause from gallery seats. “Texas women deserve better than to be used as a tool in partisan politics.”
Seeking to ram abortion restrictions in at the last minute, Texas Gov. Rick Perry added the draconian measures to the special session agenda, but as Farrar noted, “Nothing about these bills is an emergency. Surely the expansive public opposition to the bills demonstrates that.”
In an effort coordinated by reproductive rights groups including NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Whole Women’s Health, and Planned Parenthood, more than 1,000 men and women showed up at the Capitol on Sunday, lining the rotunda and stairs outside the chamber to protest the onerous legislation. While some presence by the blue-clad anti-abortion lobby was felt, they were overwhelmingly outnumbered.
Fueled by their frustration and disbelief in the conservative Republican-led crusade to end abortion access, many traveled far and stayed late to oppose the restrictions. Mary Hiller from San Antonio camped out in the Capitol annex with fellow protestors throughout the evening. She said she was one of the hundreds who got shut out of a House State Affairs Committee hearing last week after testimony was cut short by the GOP chairman.
“People are outraged,” said a tear-eyed Hiller. “What the Republicans are doing is disgusting. It’s going to hurt low-income, minority women the most and they don’t care. Women are going to pay the price and many are going to die. We did this 40 years ago [with Roe vs. Wade], I shouldn’t have to fight the same battle at 69 years old.”
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