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UPDATED: Extraordinary Turnout for Citizen’s Filibuster of Anti-Abortion Bills

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Hundreds testify against bills that would restrict abortion in Texas.
Nick Swartsell
Hundreds testify against bills that would restrict abortion in Texas.

Updated at 2:05 PM: 

Early this afternoon, the House State Affairs committee met for 10 minutes to vote on HB 60, HB 6 and SB 5. The committee approved HB 60, the omnibus abortion bill, HB 16, the standalone 20-week ban, and a SB 5 substitute that has the 20-week ban added. The meeting had been called with only two hours’ notice and was held in a tiny room without a live video feed or seating for members of the public or media. Abortion-rights activists on Twitter were outraged. As one #HB60 tweet read: “After hours of public testimony, the House State Affairs Committee steamrolls the rights of Texas in minutes”.

All three bills will hit the House floor on Sunday.

Original story: Yesterday and into the early hours of the morning, hundreds of people registered to speak for and against House Bill 60 and House Bill 16, both of which would severely restrict women’s access to abortion services in Texas.

HB 60 bans abortion after 20 weeks gestation, requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital no more than 30 miles from the abortion clinic, prevents clinicians from prescribing the abortion pill remotely and requires clinics to make costly upgrades by becoming ambulatory surgical care centers. HB 16 contains just the 20-week abortion ban, and mirrors the clause removed from Senate Bill 5, which passed on Tuesday.

In an extraordinary feat of grassroots organizing by abortion-rights groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Planned Parenthood, the Lilith Fund as well as the Texas Democratic Party, bill opponents traveled from across Texas to be at the committee hearing for what organizers called a “citizen’s filibuster.”  With so little time left on the clock for the legislative special session (it expires on Tuesday), abortion-rights activists hoped to block the passage of the bills by forcing the committee to hear hours of public testimony.

Approximately 700 members of the public registered to speak. People waiting to testify—overwhelmingly in opposition to the bills—filled the committee room and a large overflow room as well as lobbies and corridors.

Filibuster organizers asked people to tell the committee how the anti-abortion bills would affect them individually. Testimonies were heartfelt and covered the full gamut of personal experience: those who had had abortions, who remembered the world before legal abortion, who had been raped, whose poor health meant that a pregnancy could be life-threatening.

Anti-abortion activists also testified in favor of the bills, some recounting for the committee their own negative experiences of abortion.

As the long night drew on, there was something of a carnival atmosphere in the overflow room where the “filibuster army” gathered to watch the hearing via video feed. While the committee room audience had to comply with procedural protocol (no applause, no speaking, no photos), the crowd in the overflow room clapped and whooped for each abortion-rights speaker who approached the mic. Live-tweets of the hearing using the #HB60 tag replayed the proceedings in real-time to a worldwide audience, allowing organizers to crowd-source donations of pizza and coffee for the flagging speakers.

But after hearing almost 11 hours of testimony, the State Affairs committee finally adjourned at 3:45am, despite what NARAL Pro-Choice Texas described on its Facebook page as “hundreds of people who had come from across the state to testify who had not yet been allowed to speak.”

HB60 and HB16 were left pending in committee. The House State Affairs committee must now meet again to approve the bills in advance of a full House vote. If passed by the House, the House and Senate will then have to resolve the differences between the bills. Abortion-rights activists hope that these deliberations will be so drawn out that Democratic Senators can conduct an official filibuster on Tuesday, thereby killing this special session’s anti-abortion bills.

So did HB60’s nightlong hearing buy opponents enough time to see the bill quashed by timing? To see if the citizen’s filibuster worked, we may have to wait for the Lege’s clock to tick out on Tuesday.

Regardless, Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said: “As a movement, this was phenomenal and a galvanizing moment for us. I talked to so many young people who said that they had never participated in government before. This is a sign that we’re ready for a change. This is a sign of the times.”

  • Dennis Tardan

    Thank you, Forrest, for your insightful reporting. My wife, Melissa, and I showed up at 1:15pm and registered as we were told the hearings might start early. We finally left at 9:15, passing the gauntlet to the next wave. Something akin to a “Rising” is emerged last night. This is not the last you will hear from the women and men who represented so many who have been marginalized in the current political climate in Texas.

    Keep writing, reporting and commentating and we will continue to read and get more involved.

    • Soundpam

      AMEN! We can NOT melt back into the shadows, just accepting the disgraceful actions coming from the Tx Lege because we have been outnumbered. Last night showed we are many, we are strong, & we are united. The time is NOW to take back Texas from crony capitalism & religious zealots wanting a theocracy. Please everyone – we can NOT get discouraged – make this just the beginning!

      • Kathy Kennemer Genet

        Each one, teach one

        • StaceeandDonnie Caseltine

          Kathy, that is the perfect mantra. PERFECT!

  • wdc

    This is the best thing I’ve heard in ages. I hope the legislators are quaking in their boots at the thought of what they have set in motion.

  • Dennis Tardan

    We must stay together and take opportunity and create the movement. Just like the Arab Spring began with an act of immolation, we must honor our fore-mothers by keeping the momentum. Something special happened last night. I am honored to have my name and my face associated with our cause of reproductive rights for everyone.

  • SoberMoney

    The sexually impotent Republican politicians who vote for these women hating laws are in desperate need of therapy. This is the only way they can feel powerful over women. I pity their wives, although they are probably as sexually dysfunctional as these right wing politicians.

  • RedGal

    So very happy to finally see Texas policy take such restrictive measures against abortion.

    • RedGal

      I would also just like to state that I find it quite ironic that those who showed up in support of the billion dollar abortion industry and spoke in the name of “reproductive rights” have already been born. Hopefully they all have thanked their own mothers.

      • Rocky Progressive

        And are you going to adopt one of the babies who are forced into this world by your cavalier thinking?

      • juniper97

        Jesus, you’re an idiot. Abortion isn’t obligatory. I’m as pro-choice as they come, and my daughter got born. By choice. Roe was 1973; a healthy percentage of those who showed up in support of the filibuster and women’s rights were no doubt born by their mothers’ choice.

    • Rocky Progressive

      Have you no self-respect, RedGal? These laws treat you like a broodmare for the State who can’t make responsible decisions for yourself. Is this your role in life to let men tell you what you should do? I feel sorry for you.

  • Jim Donaught

    Republicans simply don’t care about the majority of their constituents, or what they think, or what they want. It’s all Bible, all the time, with these jokers — seemingly the Bible of Big Business, as they have little use for Christ’s actual teachings. As a result, Texas is dead last, or close to it, on many measures of citizen welfare … not unexpected in a state where corporate welfare comes first.

    Texans have the power to throw the bums out, and with luck they’ll be out of power for the decades it’s going to take to undo the damage they’ve done.

    • Alexis Betancourt

      Why would it take time to undo what they have done? Can’t a new governor abolish those laws?