by Mary Tuma
Photo by @WholeWomans Twitter
Updated: This afternoon, The House State Affairs Committee voted in favor of HB 60 and SB 5.
At around midnight, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) felt like he had heard enough.
The chair of the House State Affairs committee criticized passionate and oftentimes intimate testimony from scores of women fervently protesting a bill that would shut down all but five abortion clinics in the state, as being too “repetitive.”
“How can it be repetitive when the stories are so personal?,” Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) shot back.
In an awing showcase of strength in numbers and coordinated activism, more than 700 citizens signed up to testify largely against the legislation during a House committee hearing Thursday. Traveling from all parts of Texas and waiting for up to 14 hours at the state Capitol, pro-choice advocates charged steadfast into the evening and late night with the aim of filibustering a duo of bills they – and anyone with a pulse – see as a massive step to erasing abortion rights in Texas. But their voices were cut short when Cook curtailed testimony, leaving hundreds silenced.
The omnibus House Bill 60, authored by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) forces abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital no further than 30 miles where the procedure is performed and requires abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), a demand experts contend is costly, unnecessary and will severely damage women’s access to abortion care. It also says women must follow guidelines that would add cost and decrease safety when taking abortion-inducing drugs and includes a measure outlawing the procedure after 20-weeks post fertilization – the so-called “Fetal Pain Bill” is a hallmark of the anti-choice lobby’s most recent crusade.
As the Current reported this week, the bills are a result of conservative Gov. Rick Perry’s move to add abortion to the special session agenda (despite the fact none of these bills were advanced during regular session), a maneuver that shrewdly lifts normal operating procedure and gives the GOP a leg up when passing votes. The scheme proved successful last week when the legislation’s counterpart, SB 5, flew through the Republican-dominated Senate floor in a 20-10 vote.
From likening the bill to a modern day “Jim Crow” law to warning of the impending “public health crisis” that would ensue if passed, testifiers made sure the message was loud and clear – both bills would damage access to safe, legal abortion, disproportionally hurt low-income, rural and minority women and eliminate choice.
If the tear-soaked faces of rape survivors pleading against the bill didn’t stir up any compassion from anti-abortion lawmakers, perhaps the political ramifications of severely threatening abortion access would force them to reconsider. As one testifier bluntly put it, “If this bill passes, Texas will turn blue faster than I ever hoped.”
The testimony was also not without a healthful reminder from attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union to fiscal conservatives that, according to precedent in lawsuits in other states that have unsuccessfully attempted the same, Texas will inevitably be mired in expensive and time-consuming litigation if the 20-week abortion ban is signed into law.
And in a scene resembling that of a school teacher quizzing a student who came sorely unprepared for a test, Rep. Farrar delivered a round of articulate and reasoned questioning that highlighted Laubenberg’s lack of basic knowledge about her own legislation and the reproductive health controls in place today.
For instance, when the author of the bill that would restrict abortion to unprecedented levels did not know that providers are already required to report abortion complications, Farrar, incredulous and flustered, responded, “How do you not know this?”
From the anti-choice testifiers and more importantly, politicians drafting and authoring the draconian legislation, we heard more of the same. When asked to deliver a shred of substantive evidence to back up their complex, medical-based legislation, lawmakers fumble and fail to grant the public actual empirical data. Instead, legislators like Hegar and Laubenberg reiterate the bills would somehow “protect” and increase the “quality of care” for women sans defending the legislation in any methodical or scientific way, only resting time and time again on anecdotal conversations and complete conjecture. We’ve heard it all before.
I’d say it’s getting a little repetitive, don’t you think?