Floor Pass

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
Patrick Michels

For the last week, activists, lawmakers and media have demanded that DPS produce evidence that protestors tried to bring jars of urine and feces into the Senate gallery last Friday. No DPS trooper has stepped forward to say he or she personally saw jars of urine or feces, although the law enforcement agency’s head Steve McCraw has defended the allegations. McCraw has said all of the items, including glitter, bricks and tampons, were discarded and no names were taken. But today, none other than the state’s second-highest elected official, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, claimed to have seen bottles of urine and bags of feces.

Dewhurst told Toby Marie Walker of the Waco Tea Party in a web-streamed interview that he “walked over to where [DPS] was screening” and saw DPS personnel “smelling” water bottles. “They had urine in it,” he said. Dewhurst, a former CIA operative, also said he saw DPS setting aside bags of feces to throw away. (A transcript is provided below.)

DPS’ original press release, from 4:49pm last Friday, stated that officers had discovered “one jar suspected to contain urine” and “18 jars suspected to contain feces.” Dewhurst said he saw an unspecified number of “water bottles” containing urine and an unspecified number of “bags” containing feces.

Dewhurst’s office didn’t respond to questions today about when and where he saw the bottles of urine and bags of feces. The lieutenant governor is six feet, five inches and the focus of intense media attention: It seems odd that in this era of ubiquitous social media, cameras and video his presence at the crowded Capitols security checkpoints would have gone unnoticed.

“Just like everything else with this, the more that is being told to us the more questions it raises,” said Scott Daigle, a spokesman in Rep. Donna Howard’s office.

In the interview, Dewhurst also said he personally met with DPS a “dozen times” after the Wendy Davis filibuster to go over security. “We had enough firepower that we could have defended the Capitol against a brigade of a thousand al-Qaida.”

**

[Begins ~27:20]

Toby Marie Walker: “There were—

David Dewhurst: “Bottles of urine, bags of feces. Awful.”

TMW: “I know there’s people who say, ‘Oh that didn’t happen because DPS didn’t save it’.”

DD: “It did. It did. It did. I saw some of it.”

TMW:”…I’ve heard from members and other people who saw some of it.”

DD: “Absolutely and it’s the same as myself I walked over to where they were screening and they were getting bottles out and smelling them, they were getting water bottles out and smelling and they had urine in it. And there were bags they had set aside and were going to put in the trash and throw it out, of feces. Just despicable. Despicable.”‘

Sen. Dan Patrick
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick delivers a passionate speech in favor of House Bill 2 before its passage Friday night.

Lost in the dramatic events of Friday’s final showdown over the anti-abortion bill was a remarkable speech by Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston). It started out a critique of the Democrats’ legislative dealings with the Republican majority—inside baseball, really—but then built to a full-throated declaration of God’s wishes for the second special session of the Texas Legislature and a channeling of the wishes of women and the fetuses they carry.

Now, Patrick’s not known for his subtlety. After all, he came up in the world of right-wing radio and modestly titled his bible-inspiration manual The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read.

Patrick recently announced a run for lieutenant governor, challenging the bumbling Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and two other very conservative Republicans of somewhat different flavors, Ag Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Patrick has made little secret of his disdain for Dewhurst’s mishandling of the anti-abortion bill but it was his venomous and unapologetically Christian-ist speech on Friday that really marked the beginning of the campaign and showed just how extreme Patrick can be.

The Senate doesn’t lack for members willing to wear their faith on their sleeve. Sen. Eddie Lucio, the only Democrat to vote for House Bill 2, gave a half-hour rambling seminar on his personal theology, quoting Mother Teresa and citing John Locke, to justify his belief that life begins at conception. But Patrick goes even further.

He has a history of invoking God to justify his far-right politics. He even knows God’s schedule. In February 2011, he said of a bill requiring women seeking an abortion to get a sonogram, “This is God’s time to pass the bill.”

Patrick reviewed his own book on Amazon.com, humbly writing, “Since God inspired me to write this book, He automatically gets 5 stars and the CREDIT!”

In a 1958 TV interview with Mike Wallace, theologian and minister Reinhold Niebuhr defined “a bad religion” as “one that gives an ultimate sanctity to some particular cause.” He may have had a politician like Dan Patrick in mind.

I suspect Patrick wouldn’t wear one of those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets so popular back in the Bush era. Not for him, the open-ended question. “Jesus Does as I Do” is more his cup.

In his Friday address, Patrick managed to speak for women seeking an abortion, unborn babies and God, practically in one breath. That proved too much for one woman in the gallery, who shouted “I can’t take it anymore”:

We talked about the choice, you ask us, well don’t we put ourselves in the place of the woman and her choice, what choice does the baby have? Who speaks for the baby? Do you think if the mother had a conversation with the baby and said, ‘you know, this just isn’t really convenient to give birth to you right now, do you mind dying?’”

Woman yells, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Patrick: “I think that baby would say –“

Dewhurst: “Could you pause for a moment, I think the lady is going to be escorted out.”

Patrick: “I don’t get mad with those folks, I pray for them.

He went on to focus on the key Republican talking point about House Bill 2—that it’s about women’s health more than anything else, but he soon pointed out that he knows how God would’ve voted on House Bill 2 on July 12, 2013.

So at the end of the day, I respect the arguments, it’s been a good day of debate, but I can’t sit here and listen to all this talk that leaves out the most important person in the process, the baby. So who do I listen to?

I don’t apologize for being pro-life and I don’t apologize for being a Christian, and I listen to the word of God on this issue. The Bible tells us we are born in the image of God, and I believe when a baby’s life is destroyed we are destroying the image of God. And there should be no one out there celebrating it. If they want to, fine. But I will never stand on this floor, and I will never cheer, and I will never support anyone who celebrates destroying the image of God.

Sen. Dan Patrick delivers a passionate speech in favor of House Bill 2.
Sen. Dan Patrick during debate on House Bill 2.

There’s two ways you can go in life, a lot of people say I believe in God, but there’s a quantum leap when you go from believing in God to believing God. A lot of people believe in God. If you believe God, how would God vote tonight if he were here?And I know I’ll get raked over by the liberal blogs and some people in the media for bringing this up on the floor, but let’s just be honest. Are we a nation that stands for a Judeo-Christian ethic, or are we not? Do we get down on our knees and pray when our children get sick, or when we have a tragedy in West, Texas, or 9/11, who do we turn to then? We turn to God, and say, “God please bless us. “But on this case, “no, no, no, God, sorry, we’re not with you on this one.”  Well, I say the people who are for this bill aren’t any better than people who are against it, aren’t any more godly. I’m just saying we’re listening a little closer.

So I’m proud to stand and vote for this bill. I believe we are improving women’s healthcare, and I believe we care about these children. As they said, when it comes to choice, when it comes to choice, the baby doesn’t have a choice, the baby doesn’t get a vote, but tonight the baby’s going to get, by my count, 19 votes. 19 votes, every Republican and one courageous Democrat will stand and vote for the babies and women’s healthcare.

And I respect everyone’s comments, and I hope you respect mine, because you’re passionate, I’ve heard the passion from my dear friend Senator Whitmire, from my good friend, I’ve heard your passion, but let me tell you, you don’t get to outrank me on passion. And I’m just as passionate, and I care just as much, and I know that this is the right vote on this bill, on this night, on this time. Thank you very much.”

Jesus wept.

Pro-choice protesters chant outside the Senate chamber
Patrick Michels
Pro-choice protesters chant outside the Senate chamber minutes before lawmakers sent House Bill 2 to Gov. Perry's desk.

1:30 a.m.: Seventeen days after Wendy Davis’ dramatic 11-hour filibuster, Texas Republicans finally got their anti-abortion bill on Friday.

20130713_Michels_TexasLegislature_671Just two minutes before midnight, the Texas Senate passed the controversial anti-abortion legislation, now known as House Bill 2, that has roiled crowds outside and inside the statehouse for weeks. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Perry to be signed into law. That will likely lead to a protracted court battle over whether the measure creates an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.

HB 2 contains three severe restrictions on abortion, including a 20-week abortion ban and a requirement that abortion clinics conform to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Only five the state’s 42 clinics meet those requirements; the other 37 will have to quickly upgrade or close down. Reproductive health advocates say this is one of the harshest anti-abortion bills in the U.S.

While passage of HB 2 was expected, it didn’t come easily. It took an all-night debate in which the GOP majority rejected 20 Democratic amendments and in which several protestors were ejected from gallery after outbursts. Before the final vote, a dozen senators gave impassioned speeches for and against the bill, laying bare the raw emotions of the abortion debate.

Sen. Dan Patrick delivered a passionate speech in favor of House Bill 2
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick delivered a passionate speech in favor of House Bill 2, but critical of the messy process Republican leadership took to get it passed.

Sen. John Whitmire gave perhaps the most impressive speech of the night. He contrasted the “blessed” story of his family—his daughter just had a 20-week ultrasound today that revealed a healthy fetus—with the difficult decisions of colleagues and friends who were in the “desperate” situation of having to abort their pregnancies. He admonished Sen. Dan Patrick, who moments earlier had delivered a pseudo campaign speech, unofficially beginning the race for lieutenant governor, in which he implied that bill opponents weren’t hearing God and then asked, “How would God vote tonight?” Whitmire responded, “Don’t question my faith” and told Patrick that until had talked with women facing the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy, he couldn’t really understand what this issue is about.

Thousands of orange and blue-clad protestors again packed the Capitol. Witnesses in the Senate gallery for the eight-hour debate were mostly calm. One protestor chained herself to the gallery railings, a number of others shouted out and were removed. But for the most part, the real action was outside the Senate chamber, where an orange-clad crowd of thousands hollered and chanted their opposition to the bill. Some opponents of the bill marched downtown from Capitol during the final leg of the debate, carrying a banner saying “We’re In For The Long Run.” They came back to the Capitol just in time for the Democratic senators to meet them on the south steps after the final vote.

A bloody demonstrator pinned to the floor outside the Senate
Patrick Michels
A bloody demonstrator pinned to the floor outside the Senate chamber early Saturday morning.

A few protestors inside the gallery staged a sit-in outside the chamber doors. State trooper bodily removed at least eight of them to a nearby vestibule where some claimed that they had been tazed. There were reports of some arrests.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst vanished quickly from the floor after the final vote and didn’t meet with reporters. Other Republicans rejoiced in the measure’s passage. Sen. Glenn Hegar, the bill sponsor, said in a statement that the vote was a “tremendous victory for the pro-life cause in Texas.”

That victory isn’t assured. Abortion-rights advocates will surely challenge HB 2 in court and some analysts are already calling the 20-week abortion ban provision unconstitutional.

And Democrats hope the energy created the past month will carry over into the 2014 elections. That was the subtext of Wendy Davis remarks on the floor. Fittingly, she was the last senator to speak against the bill. “There are people in charge who want this bill to move very quickly so they won’t be delayed in their climb up the political ladder,” Davis said. She added, “No woman should be judged by someone else, someone who believes they would have made a different decision.”

Moments before the bill passed, Davis, who has conceded that she’s interested in a run for governor, ended her speech by warning, “The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.”— Observer staff

A crowd waited for Democrats outside after the vote.
Patrick Michels
A massive crowd waited outside the Capitol for Senate Democrats after the vote.
The Capitol rotunda's ground floor full of state troopers
Patrick Michels
The Capitol rotunda’s ground floor full of state troopers at the end of the night.

12:32 a.m.:

 

11:59 p.m.:

 

11:48 p.m.:

 

11:38 p.m.:

 

 

11:36 p.m.: Senators have been making closing remarks for the better part of two hours at this point. Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) is speaking now.—Jonathan McNamara

 

10:06 p.m.:

 

 

9:51 p.m.:

 

 

9:46 p.m.: Senators are now making closing arguments on House Bill 2 while the crowd outside roars.—Forrest Wilder

 

9:39 p.m.:

 

Protesters yelling their opposition
Patrick Michels
Protesters yelling their opposition to House Bill 2 are escorted out of the Senate.
Women chained to the Senate gallery railing
Patrick Michels
Women chained to the Senate gallery railing signal their opposition to House Bill 2, singing “All we are asking, is give us a choice.”

 

 

9:30 p.m.:

 

 

9:17 p.m.: A few more photos from earlier this evening.

Troopers lead a woman out the Capitol's east doors Friday evening.
Patrick Michels
Troopers lead a woman out the Capitol’s east doors Friday evening.
Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) is still shepherding House Bill 2 through the Senate with support from fellow Republicans like Sen. Donna Campbell, refusing to accept any amendments.
Patrick Michels
Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) is still shepherding House Bill 2 through the Senate with support from fellow Republicans like Sen. Donna Campbell, refusing to accept any amendments.
After state troopers confiscated tampons from women entering the Senate gallery this morning, protestors quickly seized on a new symbol of protest.
Patrick Michels
After state troopers confiscated tampons from women entering the Senate gallery this morning, protestors quickly seized on a new symbol of protest.

 

9:00 p.m.: Now, 14 amendments in, the process is moving fast. We’ve heard requests to dilute claims about the scientific evidence behind the ‘fetal pain’ claim, to require crisis pregnancy centers be transparent about the services they do and do not offer, to extend the postpartum services available to new mothers on CHIP Medicaid. All have been tabled. Outside, shouts and chants from the rotunda are booming through the double doors into the Senate chamber. An orange-clad crowd is amassing in the Capitol (some wearing tampon-themed clothing) waiting to march from the Capitol as soon as the Senate adjourns.—Carolyn Jones

 

7:55 p.m.: There are apparently more than 20 amendments to HB 2 in the pipeline. The second, offered by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) aroused some passion. He asked that HB 2 allow exemptions for victims of rape and incest, particularly for underage victims. “A vote against this is a vote not just against rape victims but against child rape victims,” he said. Hegar, who has rejected such an amendment before, rejected it again. Twenty weeks, he argued, is ample time for a sexual assault victim to come forward.

But then Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) – one of the ‘pro-life’ Dems — stepped forward with an amendment-within-an-amendment. He asked that minors be exempted from the 20-week abortion ban. Hegar looked baffled while Sens. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) appeared a tad panicked. Nelson swiftly took the mic so that she could clarify that, while rapists were evil, etc., this amendment would jeopardize the bill’s passage because it would have to go back to the House for approval.

To this, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) thundered that there are still two weeks left in the special session. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, eyes bulging and perhaps fearing that the senator was getting unruly, banged the gavel with force. Sen. Campbell, an ophthalmologist and ER doctor, stepped forward to argue that “there are very few abortionists who are competent to do an abortion on a child. The risk in a small uterus has increased bleeding, risk of complications, increased scarring. It’s a delicate procedure.” Perhaps swayed by this gynecological assessment, the GOP senators voted to table the amendment.—Carolyn Jones

 

7:45 p.m.:
Earlier, Sen. John Whitmire told his colleagues that they shouldn’t be bullied by an outside group that sent a letter to the senators promising to negatively “score” any votes for amending House Bill 2. Whitmire didn’t name the group but Texas Alliance for Life sent the following letter earlier today:

Please OPPOSE ALL Amendments to HB 2

Regardless of the author or substance, all amendments will be viewed as hostile, and votes on them will be scored accordingly.

Dear Senator:

Thank you for your consideration of HB 2 today. We strongly urge you to oppose all amendments to HB 2 and to support the House engrossed version. If HB 2 is amended, there will likely be three more votes before the bill could even have a chance at getting to the Governor’s desk.

At this point in the process, any amendment will put final passage of HB 2 at serious risk. Accordingly, we will consider all amendments to be hostile, and we will score votes supporting any amendment as anti-life votes.

For more information, please feel free to contact me at 512.477.1244 or [email protected]

Most sincerely,

Joe Pojman, Ph.D.
Executive Director
—Forrest Wilder

 

6:51 p.m.: In closing his sprawling defense of HB 2, Sen. Deuell referenced former Republican U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde’s comparison of partial-birth abortion to “baby torture.” Hyde is well known to the abortion-rights community too. He authored the amendment that bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, with the exception of rape, incest and the life of the mother. As the National Network of Abortion Funds note: “The Hyde Amendment has a disproportionate impact on women of color, both because women of color are more likely to live in poverty and to rely on Medicaid for health care, and because women of color are also more likely to seek abortion care.”—Carolyn Jones

 

6:46 p.m.: Video from inside the Capitol rotunda.

 

6:29 p.m.:

Demonstrators for and against House Bill 2 kept close quarters in the middle of the Capitol rotunda well into Friday afternoon.
Patrick Michels
Demonstrators for and against House Bill 2 kept close quarters in the middle of the Capitol rotunda well into Friday afternoon.

 

5:17 p.m.: Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) spoke about the 2011 sonogram bill’s impact on women, particularly how the mandatory 24-hour waiting period made it harder for low-income and rural women to reach an abortion clinic. If you recall, she wasn’t allowed to discuss this during her filibuster because it wasn’t “germane” to the bill then known as Senate Bill 5.

Here’s how it’s germane. Since the sonogram bill took effect in fall 2011, women must visit their abortion clinic at least twice, with a 24-hour wait in between. If it’s a late-term abortion, they might have to go three times because the abortion is a two-day procedure. A research group at the University of Texas at Austin, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, surveyed women subject to the law and found that 23 percent found it hard to get to the clinic for the mandatory sonogram, and almost half reported out-of-pocket expenses to pay for the sonogram—$141, on average.

The UT group has since found that 80 percent of Texans live outside one of the four metropolitan areas where ambulatory surgical care abortion centers are located. They note, for example, that there’s only one abortion provider in East Texas. If the Beaumont-based clinic were to close, the nearest abortion provider that currently complies with the regulations in HB 2 is in Houston, roughly 90 miles way. And in El Paso, for example, the nearest Texas-based abortion provider currently in compliance with HB 2 is in San Antonio, roughly 560 miles away.

Sen. Davis had tried to tell her colleagues that women are already struggling to access abortion services, and access will be even harder with HB 2. The connection is clearly germane.—Carolyn Jones

 

Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) questions Sen. Glenn Hegar about House Bill 2 on Friday afternoon.
Patrick Michels
Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) questions Sen. Glenn Hegar about House Bill 2 on Friday afternoon.

5:15 p.m.: Despite individual troopers denying it earlier, DPS has sent out a press release claiming that troopers confiscated 18 jars of “suspected” feces and one jar of “suspected” urine from people trying to enter the Senate gallery. No word on whether DPS will be sending the samples off to a crime lab for further analysis.

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today received information that individuals planned to use a variety of items or props to disrupt legislative proceedings at the Texas Capitol.

Therefore for safety purposes, DPS recommended to the Texas Senate that all bags be inspected prior to allowing individuals to enter the Senate gallery, which the Texas Senate authorized.

During these inspections, DPS officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint. All of these items – as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals – were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery.

In the interest of the safety and security of Texas legislators and the general public, these inspections will continue until the conclusion of Senate business.—Forrest Wilder

 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo)
Patrick Michels
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) came armed with binders of material for the House Bill 2 debate.

4:25 p.m.: Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) asked Sen. Hegar how HB 2′s fiscal note could have no cost attached, considering that Texas’ Medicaid program will bear the cost of unintended births. Sen. Hegar managed to dodge the question, but it was a good one.

The state is already bracing for crippling costs as a result of the decisions made in 2011 by the Legislature when legislators voted to defund the state’s family planning budget by two-thirds. Now, Texas Medicaid is expecting 24,000 extra births as a result of reduced access to family planning services. HB 2 doesn’t contain any provisions for preventing unintended pregnancies – such as better sex education, increased access to contraception, or more resources for adoption assistance. Health advocates expect that the bill will reduce access to abortions. While unintended pregnancies are rising, the ability to terminate unplanned pregnancies will decrease. The average Medicaid cost for each birth is $11,000.—Carolyn Jones

 

3:53 p.m.:

 

3:49 p.m.: A few photos from earlier today.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reads a scripted speech welcoming the public to the gallery and asking them to follow Senate decorum.
Patrick Michels
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reads a scripted speech welcoming the public to the gallery and asking them to follow Senate decorum.
Tighter security at the Capitol today includes confiscating anything that could be thrown down into the Senate floor, including tampons.
Patrick Michels
Tighter security at the Capitol today includes confiscating anything that could be thrown down into the Senate floor, including tampons.
A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda.
Patrick Michels
A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda.
Pro-choice demonstrators wave a banner in the rotunda as an anti-abortion crowd holds crosses and signs behind them.
Patrick Michels
Pro-choice demonstrators wave a banner in the rotunda as an anti-abortion crowd holds crosses and signs behind them.

 

3:27 p.m.:
Anti-abortion bill sponsor, Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) has said many times before: “I believe that this bill raises the standard of care in Texas.” He just said it again. But we learned from the Texas state health department’s own witness that licensed abortion facilities are inspected every year, while ambulatory surgical care centers (the standard to which HB 2 would hold abortion clinics) are only inspected every 3 to 6 years. Meanwhile, data shows that the complication rates for abortions are low: the Guttmacher Institute reports that the abortion complication rate is only 0.3 percent. But the risk of complication does increase as the pregnancy progresses. Separate Guttmacher Institute research finds that 58 percent of abortion patients would like to have had an abortion earlier, but couldn’t because of the time it took to make logistical and financial arrangements. The Observer’s coverage of low-income women seeking help in paying for abortions found the same.—Carolyn Jones

 

2:41 p.m.:

 

2:21 p.m.:

 

2:17 p.m.:

 

2:08 p.m.:

 

1:51 p.m.

 

 

1:49 p.m.:

 

1:39 p.m.:

 

1:39 p.m.:

 

1:30 p.m.: Video of the Capitol rotunda as shot by Jessica Luther (@scaTX).

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9:32 a.m.: By 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, the crowd waiting to get into the Senate gallery snaked down the steps from the Capitol’s third floor, and down one hallway of the ground floor. The ground floor is largely filled with pro-choice demonstrators in orange, but the first in line this morning—at around 5 a.m., they said—were three women wearing blue to support Senate Republicans expected to pass House Bill 2 on to the governor’s desk today or tomorrow.—Patrick Michels

 

9:00 a.m.: Today is a big day at the Capitol. The Senate is set to debate House Bill 2, the omnibus abortion bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and impose onerous new regulations on abortion clinics that could lead to the shuttering of as many as 37 of the state’s 42 facilities.

Democrats are expected to propose numerous amendments to the bill. But unless the Democrats take an unscheduled summer vacation out of state, the bill is almost certain to pass. Still, the end-game is bound to include some dramatic moments.

The “orange” and “blue” teams—pro-choice and anti-abortion activists, respectively—are both trying to make a final show of force. Pro-choice activists are billing the day as the “Last Stand with Texas Women.”

We’ll be live-blogging from the Capitol throughout the day, so check back for frequent updates. Follow reporters @CJPAustin @PatrickMichels @Forrest4Trees as well as @TexasObserver on Twitter for more coverage.—Forrest Wilder

 

Activists chant and yell in the Capitol rotunda as the House debates new abortion restrictions.
Patrick Michels
Pro-choice activists in orange chant and dance in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday afternoon, in circle where anti-choice demonstrators in blue had spent most of the day in quiet demonstration and prayer.

 

9:15 p.m.: When folks following the progress of HB 2 arrived at the Texas Capitol this morning, the dew was still wet on the statehouse lawn. When they trailed out nearly 11 hours later, the sun had already set. To no one’s surprise, the Texas House had tentatively approved the most restrictive anti-abortion bill ever to be debated beneath the Capitol dome.

In fact, even the way the House debated the bill wasn’t very surprising. After all, intricate arguments for and against a 20-week abortion ban, costly facility upgrades, and restrictions on medical abortions had already been aired: twice in the House chamber, once in the Senate chamber, and four times in protracted, crowded and sometimes raucous public hearings. Everyone knew what would happen when they came here today.

Nonetheless, Democratic representatives made a good faith effort to sustain debate when they filed 22 amendments to the bill.

Some amendments were startling obvious: exceptions for victims of sexual assault; for women suffering from mental illness; for the range of medical conditions that could reduce the quality of life of women or child; or for physicians when making medical decisions. Some amendments were just plain sensible: endorsing measures for reducing unplanned pregnancies; providing safety net services for women during their unplanned pregnancies; protecting the health and safety of children who would be born to parents who didn’t want them. And some amendments were more wild such as linking the validity of the HB 2 to the abolition of the death penalty.

Yet regardless of which were obvious and which audacious, all amendments went the way of the table. That is, they were roundly and resolutely ignored.

To enliven debate, some representatives brandished props. A rape kit, a bent coat hanger, a yellow feather, a knitting needle, and a bottle of turpentine all made an appearance via the Dems. In contrast, GOP representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) waved a sonogram image of his 13-week-old fetus son, boasting (somewhat early) that he could sit “crisscross applesauce” in his mother’s womb. But after 11 hours of debate, 22 amendments and reasonably energetic arguments on both sides, the House did what they were going to do. They voted along party lines to pass HB 2 to engrossment.

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., HB 2 will have the third reading in the House and then pass to the Senate for final approval. But tonight, long after the House chamber emptied, orange-clad crowds thronged in the statehouse and their chants of “Shame!” and “We will not be bullied!” echoed in the hallways of the Capitol.

 

6:46 p.m.: Capitol rotunda, full of anti-choice crowd till now, packed with chanting folks in orange.

Capitol Rotunda

 

5:09 p.m.: Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) proposed an amendment to improve teenagers’ access to sex education, thereby reducing the need for abortions. But you guessed it: GOP reps shot it down. Of course, the debate over HB 2 is about more than just abortion, even if the language of the bill doesn’t suggest it.

By the time you get to the bottom of this screen, a Texan teen will become pregnant. Statistically, this will be bad for her health. She’s more likely to receive poor prenatal care, to suffer from hypertension and anemia, to deliver her baby too soon. Moreover, the risk-taking behavior that got her pregnant also exposes her to sexually transmitted infections. One unplanned pregnancy often leads to another. Worse, if this teen mom is black or Latina or lives in rural Texas, her health outlook is especially bleak.

If this future teen mom attends a school district that promotes abstinence-only sex education then, ironically, she may still be carrying the pledge card she’d signed in health class: “Starting today, I pledge to abstain from sexual activity until marriage, as this is the only proven way to protect myself from out-of-wedlock pregnancy and STDs.” The problem? There’s no proof that abstinence-only programs work.

Trying to keep kids chaste until marriage is a big deal in Texas, driven by a socially conservative ideology at the state and local level. A 2011 Texas Freedom Network survey found that 75 percent of the thousand-plus school districts in Texas promote abstinence-only sex ed, though research shows that the abstinence-only approach doesn’t produce the desired outcomes. Nonetheless, the state health department funnels $6 million annually towards abstinence-only education. Moreover, some Texas towns experience spittle-flying fights if an evidence-based program is proposed. Yet the facts remain: the Lone Star State ranks third in the nation for teen pregnancies, first for repeat teen births, and has one of the highest teen chlamydia rates in the U.S. Is there a correlation between Texas’ favorite form of sex ed and poor health outcomes? If so, why do Texans cleave to an education policy that doesn’t work?

Good question, especially when GOP representatives are currently defending a bill to reduce access to abortions but are also resisting access to effective sex education for that same group of people.

 

3:51 p.m.: Amendments proposed by the Democrats continue to be systematically shot down.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) offered an amendment that would allow clinics to have either transfer agreements or admitting privileges with hospitals, thus bringing the regulations in line with those required of ambulatory surgical care centers. In quoting a letter from the Texas Hospital Association, Howard noted that the ‘admitting privileges’ part of HB 2 was unnecessary anyway because hospitals don’t grant admitting privileges to physicians who don’t perform services inside their hospital. Moreover, as Howard (trained as a critical care nurse) explained to Rep. Laubenberg, patients are more likely to go to the nearest emergency room rather than one to which their doctor has admitting privileges. Thus the admitting privileges clause is pointless … thus the amendment might give it some relevance. But Laubenberg declined the offer and moved to table the amendment. Her GOP colleagues voted in agreement.

Houston Republican Rep. Sylveser Turner dares the Republican leadership to accept his amendment to House Bill 2--allocating state money to upgrade abortion facilities to surgical center standards--promising he'll vote for the bill if they do.
Patrick Michels
Houston Republican Rep. Sylveser Turner dares the Republican leadership to accept his amendment to House Bill 2–allocating state money to upgrade abortion facilities to surgical center standards–promising he’ll vote for the bill if they do.

Next Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) took the mic. He proposed an amendment to state that, if a hospital has a written policy of not granting admitting privileges to physicians, then abortion physicians would not need to comply with this section of the bill. There followed a brief flutter of excitement when Rep. Turner noted that he had tried to raise this amendment, as well as a few others, in the House State Affairs Committee last week. But the chair, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), had refused to accept them. Turner then raised a point of order about the date on which the committee recorded the date of the vote: the paperwork said that it had happened on July 2 but in fact it was July 3. As the events of last session’s Senate filibuster taught us, clocks matter. For the next 20 minutes or so, we saw an extended POO (“point of order,” for the uninitiated) huddle around the dais. But after much discussion, inaudible to the public, the chair over-ruled the point of order and a House vote upheld it. Debate about Turner’s amendment limped on for a little while longer until it was eventually tabled by the GOP House majority.

Rep. Bill Callegari peruses some reading material on real estate during Turner's speech.
Patrick Michels
Rep. Bill Callegari peruses some reading material on real estate during Turner’s speech.

 

3:48 p.m.:

  2:47 p.m.:

At left, Mark Strama (D-Austin) takes a look around the House chamber during a long night of debate over the omnibus abortion restrictions last special session. Strama left the Legislature before the current session, leaving his longtime deskmate Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) a little lonely today.
Patrick Michels
At left, Mark Strama (D-Austin) takes a look around the House chamber during a long night of debate over the omnibus abortion restrictions last special session. Strama left the Legislature before the current session, leaving his longtime deskmate Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) a little lonely today.
Blue-shirted demonstrators sang and prayed in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday during House debate on sweeping new abortion restrictions.
Patrick Michels
Blue-shirted demonstrators sang and prayed in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday during House debate on sweeping new abortion restrictions.

 

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) meets with Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) during debate on House Bill 2.
Patrick Michels
Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) meets with Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) during debate on House Bill 2.

2:15 p.m.: So far, bill sponsor Rep. Laubenberg hasn’t expressed any concern about clinic closures as a result of HB 2. She told Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), who worried about the 1,000 mile round trips her constituents would have to make to access abortions, that she was merely “speaking in hypotheticals”. When Rep. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) pushed an amendment that would reimburse rural women who had to travel further as a result of clinic closures, he argued that the provision was hypothetical only. “Whether the clinics close or not,” he said, “this bill is here to protect the people.” In a very non-hypothetical fashion, Laubenberg then moved to table the amendment. Her GOP colleagues voted accordingly. Later, Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) proposed to strip all but the 20-week ban from the bill. Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) at the back mic recited a Texas health department finding that of 75,000 abortions performed per year, only about 400 occur after 20 weeks. Regardless, Laubenberg moved to table the amendment, saying it “pretty much guts the bill.” That amendment failed too. Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) took a different tack. He proposed more exceptions for medical conditions as well as greater leeway for doctors making medical judgments. He asked that physicians rather than legislators be the ones to determine what counts as “serious harm.” “We shouldn’t be making these decisions on the House floor,” he argued, but Laubenberg didn’t agree. She moved to table the amendment and the House voted 88-57.   12:55 p.m.: State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), a moderate Republican, filed an amendment that would uphold the 20-week ban. However, it would make exceptions for cases like fetal anomalies, many of which are only diagnosed at 20 weeks gestation, and for rape and incest victims whose pregnancies might expose them to risk of suicide. Davis explained that, as a lawyer familiar with the case law pertaining to abortion, she thought that her amendments would give the bill a better chance of surviving a legal challenge by removing some of the ‘undue burdens’. But perhaps feeling confident about the constitutionality of her bill, Rep. Laubenberg moved to table the amendment. Just before the vote, Rep. Davis argued that her amendments supported good policy making. Anyone who voted to table it was clearly only interested in politics, not good policy, she said. The House voted to table the amendment by 89-56. Guess we know what Rep. Davis’ colleagues are most interested in then.   12:43 p.m.:

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), the only Republican to vote against the omnibus abortion restrictions last special session, defends her amendment on House Bill 2, excepting rape and incest from the 20-week abortion ban.
Patrick Michels
Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), the only Republican to vote against the omnibus abortion restrictions last special session, defends her amendment on House Bill 2, excepting rape and incest from the 20-week abortion ban.

12:33 p.m.:

 

 

12:15p.m.: Continuing with questions, Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) voiced the concerns of reproductive health advocates that costly ASC standards would force many abortion clinics to close. Rep. Laubenberg replied: “Raising standards will not force them to close.” She seemed surprised that advocates might think so given that closures weren’t actually written into the bill.

Later, the thunderously passionate Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), known affectionately as “Miss T,” took the front mic. Surrounded by Dem colleagues, some of whom held wire coat hangers, she asked that an exception to the 20-week ban be made for victims of rape and incest. Democratic colleagues argued that the trauma suffered by sexual assault victims means that many are in denial, causing some to only report the crime late in their pregnancies.The ban on 20-week abortions would penalize them, they argued.

The Dem team made up of Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) at the back mic and and Rep. Thompson at the front, conducted a call and response routine that makes House and Senate debates so much more gripping than they usually are.

Dukes, brandishing a rape kit: “Do you know what a rape kit is?”

Thompson: “Yes, a rape kit is used for gathering forensic evidence.”

Dukes: “Well, the bill author thinks it’s to clean a woman out”, referring to Laubenberg’s gaffe in the first special session when she said that the evidence-gathering kit was used to conduct abortions for sexual assault victims.

Later in the discussion, Thompson flourished a bent coat hanger, a knitting needle, a yellow feather and a bottle of turpentine. She said that she didn’t want HB 2 to force women pregnant from rape or incest to use these to end unwanted pregnancies.

Yet despite her passion and her props, the GOP majority tabled Thompson’s amendment.

 

11:57 p.m.:

  11:05 a.m.: Watched by a packed public gallery dressed primarily in blue, the House gaveled in at 10:06 a.m. Contrary to a rumor that the Dems might not turn up, the House was indeed quorate. “Our land needs a revival of morality and righteousness,” said a pastor leading the invocation. After two memorial resolutions and drawn out chit-chat on the House floor, the debate on HB 2 finally kicked off at 10:30 a.m. Dressed in a powder-blue suit, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) read the bill (again) and stated that she planned not to accept any amendments. Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) led with questions. To anyone following the progress of this omnibus bill through two special sessions, they all seem terribly familiar. Farrar asked Laubenberg whether regulatory requirements would increase costs for women seeking abortions, whether strict ASC regulations were necessary for medical abortions, whether the bill would intervene in the doctor-patient relationship. In a soft monotone, Laubenberg replied that the bill increases patient safety and that doctors had the authority to determine who might quality for exemptions. Parroting a line she and her GOP colleagues used frequently in the last session, Laubenberg also said: “Abortion is the only procedure where the expected outcome is the taking of a life. It’s a unique procedure.” Questions from Democrats continue. Meanwhile, many other House representatives are gathered in little clumps of conversation around their desks. Few seem to be paying attention to the content of today’s debate.   11:01 a.m.:

 

 

10:59 a.m.: Rep. Jodie Laubenberg sticks to her guns on HB 2.

 

 

Lesli Simms, who celebrated her 22nd birthday at the "citizens' filibuster"
Patrick Michels
Lesli Simms, who celebrated her 22nd birthday at the “citizens’ filibuster” during the first special session, speaks at Planned Parenthood’s “Stand With Texas Women” bus tour kickoff Tuesday, surrounded by House and Senate Democrats and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.

9:45 a.m.: This morning, the full Texas House convenes at 10 a.m. to vote on HB 2, the controversial anti-abortion bill that has sparked weeks of fervent protest in and outside the state Capitol. HB 2 would ban abortion after 20 weeks, force abortion clinics to meet the stringent standards of ambulatory care centers, require women seeking medical abortions to come for multiple in-person appointments with a physician, and require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Proponents of the bill argue that these regulations improve patient safety and save innocent lives. Opponents say that the restrictions are so harsh that they will make abortion inaccessible and unsafe.

Before the House convenes, Planned Parenthood Action Fund is holding a press conference outside the Capitol to launch a statewide Stand With Texas Women tour. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation, and Senator Wendy Davis, she of the famous filibuster, will speak. They will launch a series of events across the state this week to urge legislators to protect women’s health.

The Observer will be live-blogging events at the Capitol today. Check back for updates.

Stand for Life rally at the Texas Capitol
Patrick Michels
Stand for Life rally at the Texas Capitol in support of new abortion restrictions Monday night.

While a Senate committee heard testimony on a bill placing major new limits on abortion in Texas, the bill’s blue-shirted supporters gathered last night on the Capitol’s south steps.

The “Stand For Life” rally was meant as a show of strength for Senate Bill 1′s backers who are, after all, the ones with the Legislature stacked in their favor. They’ve got the power, but it’s the bill’s opponents who’ve camped out, rallied and wielded the power of the almighty Internet to their advantage over the last few weeks.

“Let’s make this the biggest rally ever!” urged the rally’s promoters, and though they fell a bit short of that unlikely bar, many in the crowd were able to walk away with autographed photos of the famed Arkansas Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting.

Michelle Duggar, a “Young Mother of the Year Award” winner even before all of those 19 kids arrived, struck a typical note for the night when she worried repeatedly about America’s “baby Holocaust” without ever losing her quiet, folksy cool.

On the moral high ground, with victory a mathematical certainty, there is no need to yell too loud or bang the drums too hard (which a large pro-choice crowd did, again, last night in a march that left the Capitol during the Rally for Life). “They think we’re the radicals… No, they’re the radicals!” one woman told the crowd. In the audience, people waved crosses and held giant shock photos of aborted fetuses. “This isn’t a fringe crowd, this is mainstream America,” another woman told them.

Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) introduced the night’s big speaker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, as “a man of God” and “a really, really nice man.” Huckabee reminded the crowd of the national significance of passing a 20-week abortion ban, along with other major restrictions. “The eyes of America are on Texas,” he told them.

A patch of orange-clad opponents got glares for shouting down some speakers, and a few of them engaged the anti-choice crowd in debates over whose convictions were the right ones—but most of the rally had a prayerful, satisfied air fitting for a group convinced they’re in the right and certain to win.

Rep. Jodie Laubenberg and Sen. Glenn Hegar
Patrick Michels
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg and Sen. Glenn Hegar, authors of bills that would place major restrictions on abortion access, speak to a supportive crowd.

Anxious for a chance to remind the crowd of that, Texas officials crowded behind the podium waiting turns to speak. Inside the House and Senate chambers, “the health of the woman” is all the justification lawmakers seem to need for these bills. But out here, they cut right to the good stuff: saving babies and defeating those who would do the Dark Lord’s bidding.

“God is the God of life, not death,” Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) said, “and we are on the right side.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst professed his love for those who disagreed with him. One dissenter shouted “fascist!” as he explained that “as Christians, we love you just as much as we love that unborn baby.

Satan was a particularly unpopular character in this crowd, and Attorney General Greg Abbott was one of many who reminded them, seriously, of the “Hail Satan” chant aimed at the bill’s religious supporters during last Tuesday’s House committee hearing.

Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas ran the furthest with it, of course. “Some of them have been here chanting in the Capitol, ‘Hail to Satan, hail to Satan, hail to Satan,” he said tonight. “Anyone who opposes this bill, whether he realizes it or not, is a tool of Satan.”

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Abortion foes rally at the Capitol around Senate Bill 1, while pro-choice marchers parade down Congress Avenue on July 8, 2013.
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) and Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), authors of the special session's omnibus abortion restriction bills, speak to a welcoming crowd. (Patrick Michels)
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    Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delivered a message of love for the pro-choice crowd: "As Christians, we love you as much as we love that unborn baby." (Patrick Michels)
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    A family of six wore matching "Abortion Is Murder" T-shirts to the Stand for Life rally. (Patrick Michels)
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    A pro-choice march left the Capitol during Monday night's Stand for Life rally. (Patrick Michels)
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    (Patrick Michels)
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    A pro-choice march against Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2 parades down Congress Avenue Monday night. (Patrick Michels)
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    A pro-choice march against Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2 parades down Congress Avenue Monday night. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at the Stand for Life rally. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    Republican House members Matt Schaefer and James Frank share a laugh during the Stand For Life rally. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
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    The Stand for Life rally at the Capitol on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Patrick Michels)
Pro-choice activists march down Congress Avenue.
Patrick Michels
Pro-choice activists march down Congress Avenue during the Stand For Life rally at the Capitol Monday night.

Before the sun rose today there was already a blue shirt (anti-abortion) and orange shirt (abortion-rights) line at the south steps of the Capitol waiting for the hearing on the abortion ban bill. The hearing wouldn’t start until 10 a.m. but it didn’t matter as more and more people converged on the Capitol for possibly one of the most controversial bills to be debated in decades at the Legislature.

Senate Bill 1 would ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation and require abortion clinics to make costly upgrades that advocates say would close most of the clinics in the state. The bill has now undergone four boisterous public hearings in the space of four weeks, one spectacular filibuster in a failed special session in June and a jam-packed House committee hearing last week.

Today was no different in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services though Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chair of the committee, tried to limit the size of the hearing by holding it in a small hearing room rather than in the Senate chamber, which has public seating for at least 500. She also reduced public testimony time to two minutes each. Consequently, Capitol staffers and state troopers spent a lot of time shuffling witnesses into and out of the public hearing room.

There were plenty of people to shuffle. Although registration to testify opened at 9 this morning, supporters and opponents of the bill began gathering outside the statehouse doors before sunrise. By 11 a.m., when  Nelson stopped allowing new witnesses to register, the crowd was at least 1,700 strong snaking around the Capitol extension.

Senators spent the first hour discussing SB1 after Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) outlined the bill. As before, he heard questions from his Democratic colleagues, and as before, he batted their queries away. Requests for evidence to support the claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, to make exceptions for victims of rape or incest, or to consider the concerns of the medical associations went the way of all previous pleas. That is, precisely nowhere.

To mix things up, impassioned anti-abortion physician Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) placed tiny blue and pink sneakers on his desk to symbolize the humans who couldn’t speak for themselves. Later, a bill opponent left a pair of flip-flops on the witness desk to represent the women who would die from unsafe abortions, were SB1 to pass. Some levity came courtesy of Ellen Cooper, the expert witness from the Texas Department of State Health Services, who said that the state inspects abortion clinics every year but only reviews ambulatory surgical care centers (the standard to which SB1 would hold clinics) every three to six years because there are so many of them. Orange-clad audiences in the overflow rooms hooted derisively.

Yet this public hearing was more muted than recent gatherings at the Texas Capitol. The tenor of the movement took on a more ominous note this weekend when the coalition that is organizing bill opponents (now called the Stand With Texas Women Coalition) warned abortion rights activists about safety at the Texas Capitol. Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said that the coalition has become more cautious given the emotionally charged nature of SB1. They became particularly concerned when they learned that anti-choice activists were bussing in from all over the country, and they worried that extreme elements might ignite an already volatile situation. “Knowing that [anti-choice activists] were going to be coming in larger numbers, and they were putting out a nationwide call especially … we don’t know who may be coming in.” As a result, the coalition broadcasted tips to their supporters about staying safe in the face of aggression, harassment or danger if it should arise.

Indeed, the anti-abortion lobby did come out in force today. A rally organized by a host of “pro-life” groups, and headlined by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, promised to be a big draw. Another star speaker, Attorney General Greg Abbott, is considered to be the gubernatorial favorite now that Governor Perry has said he won’t seek re-election. At the same time, a pro-choice march left from the south gates of the Capitol while inside, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services continued to hear testimony.

Sen. Nelson said that the committee would not vote on SB1 until after the full House debate on their version of the bill, which is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. The Senate committee also plans to hear testimony from everyone who managed to register before 11 a.m. today. Given the numbers, the Senators may still be sitting at their desks alongside Sen. Deuell’s baby shoes late into the night.

Opponents of the anti-abortion bills in the Capitol rotunda Sunday night.
Nick Swartsell
Opponents of the anti-abortion bills in the Capitol rotunda Sunday night.

Updated at 11:15 AM: The House has passed SB 5 on a 95-34 vote. The question now is whether Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will try to take up the bill today in the Senate. In order to do that, a rule requiring a 24-hour layout will have to be suspended. That takes a two-thirds vote.

Original: Despite 12 hours of procedural delays by Democrats—and a gallery packed with opponents—the Texas House gave initial approval at 3:23 a.m. Monday to a strict anti-abortion bill. The House is expected to pass the measure, Senate Bill 5, on a final vote later on Monday.

SB 5 would impose some of the harshest anti-abortion restrictions in the nation. It would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. It would require all abortion clinics to refit their facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, a move that health advocates say will be so costly that all but five clinics in the state would close. The bill also would prevent clinicians from prescribing the abortion pill remotely, as they do currently for rural women in early stages of pregnancy. And it would require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital no more than 30 miles from the abortion clinic, effectively excluding out-of-state abortion doctors.

Opponents of the bill resisted a vote for hours. From the moment the House gaveled in at 2 p.m. on Sunday to the moment SB 5 passed on second reading early Monday morning, Democrats wielded points of order and parliamentary inquiries with swift regularity. They also offered 13 amendments to the bill, causing the crammed gallery to snicker appreciatively at scripted exchanges between Democrats at the front and back microphones (State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston): “Do you know who will want to see substantial evidence” [regarding fetal pain at 20 weeks]; State Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth): “Who?” State Rep. Wu: “The courts!”)

But it became wearisome. Indeed, before midnight the sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) stopped responding to Democrats’ questions about the bill. In a rare move, Laubenberg continually tabled Democratic amendments without ever coming to the front microphone.

Democrats knew they couldn’t stop the bill from passing, but their goal was simply to delay it long enough to give their colleagues in the Senate a chance to kill the bill with a filibuster. The House version of SB 5 still must return to the Senate for a final vote, and time is running out. The 30-day special session called by Gov. Rick Perry ends on Tuesday, though Perry can call as many sessions as he desires. Senate rules require a 24-hour waiting period before the Senate can debate the bill. So House Democrats hoped to delay SB 5 long enough to give Senate Democrats a chance to filibuster the bill when it returns to the Senate on Tuesday. (Unlike in Washington, Texas Senators hoping to filibuster must talk the entire time.) Every hour that House Democrats delayed on Sunday was one less hour Senate Democrats would have to filibuster.

Republicans knew that time was wasting away. So at 2 a.m., Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) moved to end debate and force a final vote on the bill, on the basis that debate was becoming repetitive. After 20 further minutes of Republican huddling around Speaker Joe Straus’s podium, the motion passed, leaving as many as 15 more Democratic amendments without debate. And despite hours of inventive foot-dragging by Democrats, the House passed SB 5 to a symphony of boos, yells and shouts of “shame!” from the gallery.

In fact, it was the packed gallery that made this bill’s passage especially dramatic. Abortion-rights advocates had started arriving at the Capitol before noon on Sunday. An informal coalition of reproductive rights organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Jane’s Due Process, Whole Woman’s Health, Faith Action Women’s Network, Equality Texas and Planned Parenthood, had spearheaded their mobilization via social media. One campaign message advised:  “Wear ORANGE, bring snacks and plan to stay late!” Many arrived in orange but for those who didn’t, the coalition distributed 1,000 orange t-shirts bearing the logo “Stand With Women”.

By 1.30 p.m., a Planned Parenthood spokesperson said, all shirts had been handed out. Conversely, anti-abortion organizers suggested that their crowd wear blue. Yet orange-clad opponents of the bill kept arriving and once the gallery filled, the “orange army” spilled out into the lobby, rotunda and eventually, into rooms in the Capitol annex. Judging by the counts of orange and blue in the gallery, the abortion rights advocates outnumbered the anti-abortion crowd by 10 to one. Even at 9 p.m., more than 150 people in orange waited to enter the gallery. By 2 a.m., the Texas Democratic Party, which helped organize the turnout, announced that there were still more than 200 orange shirts watching the proceedings in the House chamber.

This meant that there were many activists present to witness Rep. Laubenberg’s gaffe earlier in the day. When State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) asked that the 20-week abortion ban exempt victims of rape and incest, the bill sponsor dismissed her. Women who had been raped could go to a hospital and get a rape kit, Laubenberg said, suggesting that the rape kit be used to have the woman “cleaned out.” With lashings of snark, activists tweeted about her misunderstanding of the issues that affect the women whose lives she hoped to legislate.

Yet despite yesterday’s political theater, Rep Laubenberg’s colleagues, as well as some Democrats, still approved her bill by large majority. This morning, Democrats have delayed their return to the House for a third-reading vote on the bill.

senate-bill-5-house-fight

Scenes from the Sunday night/Monday morning House fight over the omnibus abortion restriction bill, Senate Bill 5.
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    Abortion rights protesters ring the upper tiers of the Capitol rotunda. (Nick Swartsell)
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    Abortion rights protesters crowd the entry to the House chamber Sunday. (Nick Swartsell)
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    Republican women join Rep. Jodie Laubenberg as she defends Senate Bill 5 Sunday night. (Patrick Michels)
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    The crowd waves its applause Sunday night as Rep. Jessica Farrar speaks against Senate Bill 5. (Patrick Michels)
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    Abortion rights activists in orange filled the floor of the Capitol rotunda Sunday afternoon before the House debated Senate Bill 5's strict abortion restrictions. (Nick Swartsell)
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    Pro-life demonstrators, identifiable by the word "LIFE" written on the tape over their mouths, surrounded by abortion rights activists in Capitol hallways Sunday. (Nick Swartsell)
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    House Parliamentarian Chris Griesel talks House rules with lawmakers before the Senate Bill 5 debate Sunday afternoon. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. Senfronia Thompson waves a coat hanger during Sunday night's discussion of Senate Bill 5, a warning about dangerous home abortions that will follow clinic closures. (Patrick Michels)
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    Opponents of Senate Bill 5 pack the stairwell outside the House chamber Sunday. (Nick Swartsell)
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    Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 5, defends her bill as Rep. Jessica Farrar looks on. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. Mary Gonzalez presents an amendment to Senate Bill 5, while the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg stands nearby. After midnight, Laubenberg stopped coming to the microphone to speak against amendments. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer prepares one of a few procedural attempts to block Senate Bill 5. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. David Simpson beside one of many signs around House members' laptops with Bible verses, a show of support for Senate Bill 5. (Patrick Michels)
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    House members pass the time early Monday morning before a vote on Senate Bill 5. (Patrick Michels)
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    Reps. Jason Villalba, Tony Dale, Larry Gonzales and John Otto at their desks early Monday morning, while Democrats give final speeches against Senate Bill 5. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. Jeff Leach applauds the House's early morning vote for Senate Bill 5, while Rep. Phil Stephenson looks up at the jeering crowd in the gallery. (Patrick Michels)
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    Abortion rights supporters pack the stairs outside the House chamber early Monday morning as Rep. Dawnna Dukes speaks. (Patrick Michels)
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    Rep. Senfronia Thompson with Rep. Jessica Farrar, surrounded by a crowd of abortion rights supporters after the House's early morning vote on Senate Bill 5. (Patrick Michels)

After more than six hours of fervent debate, the Texas Senate late last night passed an omnibus anti-abortion bill on a 20-10 vote.

Senate Bill 5 requires all abortion clinics to refit their facilities in line with ambulatory surgical center standards, a move that health advocates say will be so costly that all but five clinics in the state will close. The bill also prevents clinicians from prescribing the abortion pill remotely, as they do currently, for rural women in early stages of pregnancy. And it requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital no more than 30 miles from the abortion clinic, effectively excluding out-of-state abortion doctors.

But Republican Sen. Glenn Hegar, a rice farmer from Katy and the sponsor of the bill, dropped one major provision, the clause banning abortion after 20 weeks. He did express hope that it might make a comeback in the House.

Democratic senators spent hours pushing back. They grilled Hegar about the empirical evidence to suggest that ambulatory care centers are safer than stand-alone clinics; about the intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship; about the requirement to have physicians prescribe three times the clinically accepted pharmaceutical dose for medical abortions; about the absence of measures like contraception and sex education to prevent abortions; about the increased cost of abortion care; about the number of clinics that would close; and about women’s reduced access to their constitutionally protected right.

To each criticism, Hegar’s only response was that his bill improved patient safety. In fact, he said it so many times that Sen. Sylvia Garcia quipped, “If I had a dollar for every time you said ‘raising the standard of care,’ you’d probably be able to buy me a good steak dinner.”

Democrats gamely proposed 19 amendments that would link bill adoption to moonshot goals like having Planned Parenthood back in the Women’s Health Program or Texas accept Medicaid expansion. But Hegar, with a face that was consistently expressionless for most of six hours, swiftly and calmly quashed each Democratic proposal.

Just after an 11 p.m. invocation from Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) to technically bring about a new legislative day (blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted because of righteousness, etcetera), Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) made a last-ditch effort to stop the bill on third and final reading. He mourned the fact that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had suspended the two-third rule—which requires a two-thirds vote to bring bills up for debate—in the 30-day special session called by Gov. Rick Perry, allowing senators to “ram through any partisan meat that fail[ed] in the regular session.” After outlining the damage to women’s health following recent legislative decisions like cuts to the state’s family-planning budget and the eviction of Planned Parenthood from state-funded care, Watson asked: “Are we really reducing abortions, or just the legal ones?”

But Hegar never looked ruffled, perhaps because he’d also received spades of encouragement from fellow Republicans as well from avowedly “pro-life” Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.

Hegar’s work done, the bill is expected to proceed to a House committee on Thursday, where activists for abortion rights as well as anti-abortion activists will gather again for public testimony.

Meanwhile in other news this week, the nonpartisan Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition honored a group of senators and state representatives for negotiating the return of $200 million for women’s health in the state budget. Among the awardees were Sen. Jane Nelson and Sen. Bob Deuell. Both voted for the omnibus anti-abortion bill last night.

And the name of the award they received this week? Women’s Health Heroes.

Critics of new abortion regulations at the Senate hearing.
Jen Reel
Abortion-rights activists turned up in vintage fashion, as a reminder that the Legislature's proposed regulations would be a throwback to 1950s law.

Abortion-rights activists thought it was too good to be true, and it was. Four strict anti-abortion bills that failed to pass in the 83rd Texas Legislature’s regular session that ended in May got new life on Tuesday when Gov. Rick Perry added abortion to the list of issues lawmakers can debate in a 30-day special session.

“We have an obligation to protect unborn children, and to hold those who peddle these abortions to standards that would minimize the death, disease and pain they cause,” Gov. Perry said in a statement on Tuesday. Within hours, an omnibus anti-abortion bill (Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Glenn Hegar) had been filed. A Senate committee held its first hearing on the bill yesterday.

Senate Bill 5 has teeth. It sets out to ban abortion after 20 weeks, making an exception only if the mother’s life is endangered or if the fetus has a “profound and irremediable anomaly.” The definition of an anomaly? One that a physician determines will cause the fetus to die within minutes or hours after birth regardless of medical treatment. Other provisions of SB 5 will require abortion clinics to be located within 30 miles of a hospital to which the abortion doctor has admitting privileges. Telemedicine gets the thumbs down too from a clause that requires patients to have two separate in-person exams with a physician for medical abortions. Finally, and perhaps most devastating, SB 5 requires all abortion facilities meet the minimum standards of ambulatory surgical care centers. Abortion-rights activists claim the requirements are unnecessary and a back-door way to close clinics.

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee met for almost four hours of public testimony in the over-air conditioned Senate chamber. Forty two people testified before the committee: 20 in favor of the bills and 22 against. Some opponents came dressed in 1950s getup–pillbox hats, white gloves and dainty shoes–to demonstrate that SB5 takes women back in time. The anti-abortion lobby–in power suits and with blow-dried hairdos–didn’t look too far from that era either.

Because the contents of the bills had been recycled from previous drafts in the regular session, the testimonies weren’t surprising.

Senate Health and Human Services Committee chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)
Jen Reel
Senate Health and Human Services Committee chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)

Abortion-rights activists noted that fetal anomalies are frequently only detected 20 weeks into pregnancy, and that the painful decision to terminate should be the woman’s decision, not her physician’s. They argued that the surgical center requirements in SB 5 could force all but five clinics of the more than 40 in Texas to close, reducing access to safe legal abortion and driving women toward back-street abortions. Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinics, told the committee that requiring abortion clinics to become ambulatory care centers would increase their operating costs by roughly $40,000, with no demonstrable improvements in patient safety.

Alternatively, a speaker representing the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops testified that SB 5 provides commonsense measures to protect women, arguing that the provisions would improve the standards of care. An African-American pastor from Dallas said that abortion is used as genocide in black communities. The chamber heard emotionally wrought stories from women who had refused to terminate pregnancies after hearing that their fetuses, some of whom later died, had congenital abnormalities. Self-described “pro-life” obstetricians told the committee of the countless patients they had seen who’d been harmed during abortion procedures.

The public hearing ended with a request from Elizabeth Graham, the leader of Texas Right to Life, that the committee remove a key exemption from the 20-week abortion ban. Fetuses with congenital abnormalities shouldn’t be aborted, she argued, because that punishes the “preborn” disabled. Committee members looked thoughtful as Chair Jane Nelson gaveled the committee into recess.

The committee meets again on Friday at 11 a.m. Not one abortion-rights activist I spoke to believes that SB 5 won’t pass.

Gov. Rick Perry signs House Bill 5
Patrick Michels
Gov. Rick Perry signs House Bill 5 Monday at the Capitol, surrounded by, from left, Sen. Donna Campbell, Sen. Dan Patrick, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Lawmakers, test reform advocates and reporters packed the governor’s reception room at the Capitol earlier today, where Gov. Rick Perry was scheduled to “give remarks and sign education bills,” per a press release sent Friday.

His office didn’t announce just which “education bills” he planned to sign, and his announcement came after a week of speculation that Perry planned to veto House Bill 5, the session’s most sweeping measure to scale back high school testing.

The Quorum Report cited “sources generally close to the Governor’s office” on Wednesday raising the possibility of a veto, and a few more reporters cited that report (and “growing chatter in the Capitol“) in their own stories on veto speculation. Dallas Morning News education columnist Bill McKenzie mused on how Perry could veto three test reform measures, including HB 5, without hurting his career.

Some business leaders worried that cutting testing, and giving students new graduation requirements focused on career—not college—readiness, meant offering a weaker education. But a veto would have been profoundly unpopular among parents and students who’ve demanded fewer tests.

The bill’s author, House Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock tweeted Thursday that he’d been invited to the signing, but not told why. But with Aycock summoned along with parents and students who’d spent dozens of hours this session complaining to lawmakers about Texas’ 15 required high school tests, there didn’t seem much suspense. Either Perry was going to sign the bill, or he’d arranged the sort of particularly cruel veto ceremony the rulers in Game of Thrones might appreciate. (Spoiler alert.)

He put the speculation to rest early in his remarks, naming HB 5 among the six bills he’d sign, saying they strike “an appropriate balance between our need for rigorous academic standards and the student’s need for flexibility, a balance between our needs for accountability and the appropriate level of testing in the classroom.”

Perry allowed that he had “deep concerns about how [HB5] would impact our students” at first, but was satisfied with the final version. “By standing our ground and not compromising on the high standards that we set for our students, we’ve made this a much better bill.” That’s as much as Perry hinted that he’d been on the fence, and he emphasized that HB 5 doesn’t weaken standards. “Texas refuses to dilute our standards in any way,” he said, “because our standards are working.”

Seated at a table in the middle of the crowd, Perry made great drama of the big moment. “Brother Aycock, brother Patrick,” he said, summoning the bill’s author and its Senate sponsor, Houston Republican Dan Patrick. “Got a low-number bill right here.” Parents in the back of the room let out hoots and shouts of joy as he signed the bill.

Perry also signed House Bills 809, 842, 2201 and 3662, and Senate Bill 441 today—bills that, generally speaking, create new technical courses and career programs in schools.

Education Commissioner Michael Williams was among a handful of other officials who took a turn at the mic, and he hinted at the monster task now facing the state education agency to implement the new bills. Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes had a similar take, noting universities will need more counselors now, to help students bridge the gap between their new high school course requirements and their major in college.

HB 5 isn’t the last of the test-reform measures left for Perry to sign, and he’s got just six days left to do so. Bills that could give high-scoring students a pass from some tests in elementary school, or exempt a handful of “high performance” school districts, are still in limbo, though if Perry takes no action, those bills become law. When the Texas Tribune‘s Morgan Smith asked the governor about some of those other testing bills today, Perry said only what his office had been saying about HB 5 before today: he’s still thinking on it.

“We will notify you at the appropriate time,” Perry said. “I just don’t have the final solution yet.”

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