In the state where the historic Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade originated, a battle that could redefine abortion rights in Texas continues to rage on during a second special session called by Gov. Rick Perry in an attempt to pass proposed legislation that could put some of the toughest restrictions on access to abortion in the nation.
State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), filed the same omnibus bill for the special session, now House Bill 2.
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) filed a separate bill, Senate Bill 9, that would prevent anyone but a physician from prescribing drugs that would induce an abortion.
The House Committee on State Affairs hosted a second hearing on HB 2 Tuesday, with all nine overflow rooms filled completely. The committee approved the bill with a vote of 8-3 shortly after midnight, cutting off the more than 1,000 voices who still wished to testify on the bill. The bill now moves to the House floor.
"Less than a week ago, you were at the forefront of a turning point in history. You joined the brave ranks of men and women who love this state and fought for their liberty and preserving Texas values," Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) told the more than 5,000 people who gathered at the state Capitol steps Monday. "It was your voices, lent to me, that made it possible for me to stand those 13 hours."
Davis' remarks addressed a sea of supporters dressed in orange who flooded out across the Capitol lawn and spilled into the Capitol rotunda Monday for the Stand With Texas Women rally organized by Planned Parenthood.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the second special session after Senator Davis and hundreds of Texans successfully thwarted Texas Republicans' plans to pass the bill last week with a bold 11-hour filibuster that has earned the senator from Texas an appearance on "Meet The Press" Sunday.
"This is people fighting back in the largest response that I've seen in any state so far, and the fact that it's coming from Texas I think is very symbolic," says Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. "Part of the reason why they're so determined to ram this bill through now is because what they saw scared them, and what they saw was the future of Texas, and it is not Republican, it is not anti-choice."
Hundreds of Texans joined Davis last week, filling the Capitol rotunda and shouting so loudly that senators were unable to hear to vote on the bill before the midnight deadline. Texas' Public Integrity Unit is investigating the timestamp change that occurred at the end of Tuesday's filibuster showing that SB5 had passed before the midnight deadline.
Governor Perry originally called last week's first special session so that senators could address redistricting in the state after a federal court ruled gerrymandered districts unconstitutional. In a regular legislative session in Texas, a bill has to garner the approval of two-thirds of state senators in order to be brought to the floor, but that rule is suspended during special sessions.
House Bill 2 would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, require physicians to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of any abortion facility, and require all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers that require doctors to administer in person the drugs that induce abortion. Currently, only five clinics in Texas meet the requirements of the bill. The costs for obtaining an abortion at an ambulatory surgical center is significantly higher than at other facilities.
"If Rick Perry and the others want to truly be walking the walk of a pro-life agenda, they would be expanding Medicaid, they would be funding education, they would be doing everything in their power to end hunger, homelessness, illness," said Busby. Texas "would not be last in education, with the most uninsured children; [Texas] would not have the highest teen pregnancy rate."
"They would not only be funding Planned Parenthood, but including it in the women's health program They would be expanding family planning services - that is how you truly reduce the need for abortion," she said.
If the bill passes, the state of Texas would be left with more Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) than actual abortion clinics. CPCs are often set up by anti-abortion activists, and reports have documented that staff at these centers actively deceive and discourage women from accessing abortion services. According to Busby, these centers received more than $5.1 million taxpayer dollars in the current Texas budget.
"A sleeping giant has really awoken here in Texas," says founder and president of Whole Woman's Health Amy Hagstrom Miller. She has been an abortion provider in Texas since 2000. "Two years ago when they passed a bunch of restrictions, this protest, this outcry didn't happen."
The 42 abortion clinics in Texas already meet federal regulations and the state already restricts access to abortion with 24-hour waiting periods and forced sonograms. Clinic inspections are conducted in the state on a regular basis.
"We've seen women using medications that they've gotten in Mexico, and we've seen women who've asked their partners to beat their stomachs to try to induce a miscarriage. We've seen horrific things that are like pre-Roe," Miller said. "They just try everything they can to self-abort because they can't even make it to two days. It's too much of a burden for them because they're working moms," Miller said.