Senate Approves Omnibus Abortion Bill HB 2
1:30 a.m.: Seventeen days after Wendy Davis’ dramatic 11-hour filibuster, Texas Republicans finally got their anti-abortion bill on Friday.
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. 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 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
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
9:46 p.m.: Senators are now making closing arguments on House Bill 2 while the crowd outside roars.—Forrest Wilder
9:17 p.m.: A few more photos from earlier this evening.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Pojman, Ph.D.
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.
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
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
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
3:49 p.m.: A few photos from earlier today.
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
1:30 p.m.: Video of the Capitol rotunda as shot by Jessica Luther (@scaTX).
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