Complete coverage of the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature.

Protesters Disrupt Debate on Abortion Bill

Debate takes place between packed gallery of demonstrators

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Activists on both sides of the abortion bill issue are crowding the Texas State Capitol as lawmakers debate the controversial abortion bill.

    With the Texas Senate poised to pass sweeping abortion restrictions, a protest briefly halted debate Friday night before the chamber's leader ordered officers to remove those disrupting the proceedings.

    Four women tried to chain themselves to a railing in the gallery as senators were about to start closing statements on an abortion bill that has drawn thousands of protesters to the Capitol for weeks. One of the women succeeded in chaining herself to the railing at the front of the overhead gallery, prompting a 10-minute recess. Officers arrested all four women.

    When debate resumed, protesters began loudly singing, "Give choice a chance. All we are saying is give choice a chance." Dewhurst asked officers to remove the group.

    Politically Charged Atmosphere at Capitol

    [DFW] Politically Charged Atmosphere at Capitol
    Opponents and supporters of House Bill 2 packed the Texas Capitol Friday. The circus-like atmosphere in Austin marked the culmination of weeks of protests, after the last legislative session when a Democratic filibuster and subsequent protest prevented the bill from becoming law.

    Republicans are expected to pass the sweeping bill, with Democrats left to do little more than enter into the legislative record material that could help defeat it in federal court. Democrats have called the sweeping GOP proposal unnecessary and unconstitutional.

    The Senate's debate took place between a packed gallery of demonstrators, with anti-abortion activists wearing blue and abortion-rights supporters wearing orange. Security was tight, and state troopers reported confiscating bottles of urine and feces as they worked to prevent another attempt to stop the Republican majority from passing a proposal that has put Texas at the center of the nation's abortion debate.

    Abortion Bill Heads to Texas Senate

    [DFW] Abortion Bill Heads to Texas Senate
    Lawmakers in Austin will try again to pass the abortion bill in the Senate on Friday.

    Outside the chamber, the crowd grew so loud that troopers were being issued orange earplugs. Protesters were shouting, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as senators gave their closing statements in the debate.

    The Senate's approval would send the bill to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he will sign it.

    The circus-like atmosphere in the Texas Capitol marked the culmination of weeks of protests, the most dramatic of which came June 25 in the final minutes of the last special legislative session, when a Democratic filibuster and subsequent protest prevented the bill from becoming law.

    House Bill 2 would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allow abortions only in surgical centers, limit where and when women may take abortion-inducing pills and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Only five out of 42 existing abortion clinics meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can't afford to upgrade or relocate.

    Unfamiliar with the bill? Here is what's at stake for both sides.

    Sen. Glen Hegar of Katy, the bill's Republican author, argued that all abortions, including those induced with medications, should take place in an ambulatory surgical center in case of complications.

    Democrats pointed out that childbirth is more dangerous than an abortion and there have been no serious problems with women taking abortion drugs at home. They introduced amendments to add exceptions for cases of rape and incest and to remove some of the more restrictive clauses.

    Sen. Carlos Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, proposed an exception to the 20-week ban for child victims of rape or incest.

    "I don't think it's unreasonable to give these victims an additional month to make up their minds," Uresti said.

    But Hegar responded that if an abortion were necessary to protect a child from imminent harm or death, an abortion after 20 weeks would be allowed.

    Hegar also rejected an amendment to expand that exception to make it for the mother's health and not limit it to imminent harm.

    Earlier, Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, asked why Hegar was pushing restrictions that federal courts in other states had suspended as possibly unconstitutional.

    "There will be a lawsuit. I promise you," West said, raising his right hand as if taking an oath.

    The bill under consideration mirrors restrictions passed in Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kansas, Wisconsin and Arizona. In North Carolina, lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow state health officials to apply standards for ambulatory surgical centers to abortion clinics.

    Passing the law in Texas would be a major victory for anti-abortion activists in the nation's second most-populous state. Hegar acknowledged working with anti-abortion groups to draft the legislation. A lawsuit originating in Texas would also likely win a sympathetic hearing at the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, said it was clear the bill was part of national conservative agenda attempting to ban abortion and infringe on women's rights one state at a time. He pressed Hegar on why the Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology opposed the bill.

    He asked Hegar how he could ignore these experts.

    "There are differences in the medical profession," Hegar insisted, rejecting the criticism. "I don't believe this legislation will majorly impede the doctor-patient relationship."

    Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville Republican and a doctor, defended the bill, saying abortion clinics "had not maintained the proper standard of care."

    The Senate's leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, was determined to keep the vote on track. The Texas Constitution gives him the authority to jail anyone who breaks the chamber's rules of decorum, which stipulate that there can be no demonstrations or attempts to disrupt the Senate's work.

    In addition to the jars of suspected urine and feces, officers took paint, glitter, confetti and feminine hygiene products from people seeking to ender the gallery, according to the Department of Public Safety.

    The issue has been simmering for months in Texas.

    Democrats successfully blocked the bill in the regular legislative session. Then, during the first special session, the Senate didn't take up the bill until the final day. That allowed Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis to use a filibuster to delay a vote. When Republicans rushed to try to pass the bill in the session's final 15 minutes, angry protesters began shouting and screaming from the gallery. Dewhurst could only watch with frustration as a half-dozen state troopers tried to remove more than 450 people.

    Democrats see in the protests an opportunity that could help them break a 20-year statewide losing streak. They believe Republicans have overreached in trying to appease their base and alienated suburban women, a constituency that helped President Barack Obama win re-election.

    Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.