Greetings from the Capitol extension, where groups of orange-clad pro-choice advocates and blue-clad anti-woman advocates have assembled for today's State Affairs Committee hearing on HB 2, which begins at 3:30 pm and is expected to go until midnight.
HB 2 is the latest iteration of the draconian back-door abortion ban that was defeated in the first special session.
Tonight the State Affairs Committee will receive testimony on it. As BOR readers may recall, during the first special session testimony was limited and Chairman Byron Cook rudely called the witnesses' stories “repetitive.” Tonight he is anticipated to cut off testimony at 12:01 a.m.
Read our live coverage from the Capitol below the jump. Updates run at the top of the page. To read the liveblog from start to finish, start at the bottom of the page and work your way up.
|Updated 1:14 a.m. from Katherine:|
Back home after a long day. As I walked down Congress away from the Capitol, I could still hear chants of “We Won't Go Back!” from the extension rotunda, where about 200 pro-choice advocates were still demonstrating, having finally outlasted their anti-choice opposition.
Even more Texans were denied the chance to speak in the committee hearing tonight, and only one day after a rally that drew over 6,000 pro-choice Texans to the Capitol, thousands came back to register against the bill and simply make their presence known during the hearing.
Our coalition is diverse, and it's also very young, relative to the age of the average Texas voter. I look at the lines of folks signed up to speak or waiting to sit in the committee room, and I see the future majority of the Texas electorate.
It's clear that we have to channel this energy into the broadening progressive movement to take Texas back and elect legislators and statewide officials that actually listen when thousands of Texans wait for a turn to speak out against a bill and then act on that testimony.
We can't wait for some nebulous “future” electorate. We have to work harder, pick up the pace, and do the work to take back Texas starting now.
|Updated 12:18 a.m. from Katherine:|
We received the following statement from State Rep. Jessica Farrar on tonight's hearing:
“Once again, far-right House members in the State Affairs Committee blocked Texans from speaking against a bill that will harm woman across the state. At midnight, the committee chairman cut off testimony, denying more than a thousand Texans the opportunity to speak out against dangerous legislation that would virtually ban safe and legal abortion statewide.
|Updated 12:15 a.m. from Katherine:|
At the outset of the hearing almost 9 hours ago, Turner asked if the vote would be taken tonight and Cook did not answer. Instead, Cook cut off Turner during his comments on the bill and took the vote.
Final vote: 8 ayes, 3 nays, 2 absent.
Updated 12:12 a.m. by Katherine:
After testimony was cut off, State Rep. Sylvester Turner spoke his piece on this bill. (Rough transcript!)
Laubenberg tried to answer and had nothing to say. A woman from the room called “Answer!”
She had nothing to say.
Update 12:08 a.m. by Shelby:
The outside rotunda has been overtaken by orange pro-choice supporters doing warm up exercises and moral-boosting activities. People chanting “We will be back!” Only a few anti's randomly singing in the crowd.
Update 12:04 a.m. by Katherine:
The clock has run out on testimony. But State Rep. Sylvester Turner is having NONE of it.
Cook: [Moves to close the meeting.]
Turner: How many people are left?
[ Man starts yelling about how his grandmother died of a back-alley abortion. ]
Cook reiterates desire to end testimony. Says they've taken a lot of testimony in regular session and first special session.
Turner: I still have a question, I'm entitled to know how many people are left.
Cook: Over 1,000.
Turner: And they have filled out the affirmation?
[ Discussion ]
Turner: I know you think they don't have a right to talk. Well, I have a right to talk.
Update 11:56 p.m. by Katherine:
Update 11:51 p.m. by Katherine:
The line to sit in the committee hearing room is down to only about two dozen, with less than 10 minutes to go before midnight. Most of the crowds have dispersed, and volunteers have cleaned up the many pizzas and boxes of cookies and sodas that were generously donated tonight. The dueling protestors in the extension rotunda are still going at it, however.
It remains to be seen how folks will react when midnight comes and Chairman Byron Cook cuts off testimony from the hundreds of Texans who came out to speak on this bill.
|Update 11:34 p.m. by Katherine:|
Inside the committee hearings and auditorium, hundreds of Texans — primarily wearing orange in solidarity with the pro-choice movement — the mood has been varied, depending on the testimony.
Many of the pro-choice speakers described grueling personal experiences — rapes, spousal and partner abuse, desperately wanted children with severe abnormalities. The testimonies are difficult to listen to, yet the brave speakers sharing their most intimate stories seem to leave the Republican committee members unmoved. Again, as Chairman Cook pointed out yesterday on the State House floor, it was unlikely that any testimony could change votes on this bill.
(Clearly that means we need to change the legislators if they won't change their votes.)
Update 11:30 p.m. by Shelby:
Rep. Farrar has been a queen throughout this hearing process. She has endured it all, even this repetitive anti-choice testimony (apparently all these men here today want to protect me by making decisions for me). So here is to you, Representative Farrar. You're our official homegirl tonight.
Update 11:13 p.m. by Katherine:
The line of the night may go to Katie Heim, who brought the house down with a speech about her Meemaw, who would tell the Legislature to get out of her “business.”
She closed with, “HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A TEXAS WOMAN SCORNED!! … Now bless y'alls hearts.”
Update 11:03 p.m. by Katherine:
State Representative Jessica Farrar is making an issue of the process and Chairman Cook's refusal to let people who waited all day speak about the bill. She noted that speakers have been 22 in favor, 33 opposed to the bill, which does not reflect the breakdown of the crowd gathered in the overflow rooms (i.e. overwhelmingly orange-clad).
Earlier tonight Farrar raised concerns that Chairman Cook was not taking testimony in proportion to witness sign-ins against and in favor of the bill, calling his efforts “not sufficient.”
Why are the thousands of men and women who came to the Capitol not being allowed to testify? Why are the people being shut out of the process?
Update 10:56 p.m. by Katherine:
In the hallways outside of the hearing, the mood is upbeat, with scores of young men and women lining up to sit in the committee room, or just hanging out with friends, eating the pizza (thank you!!) and signing up with Planned Parenthood. PP had to run off extra sign-up sheets due to the immense turnout.
The atmosphere is not unlike the largest, nerdiest house party I've ever been to, minus the Lone Star.
Update 9:57 p.m. by Katherine:
An anti-choice gentleman speaking against the bill wrapped up his histrionic testimony against a bill that bans a procedure he will never need by stating that “abortion makes MEN think of WOMEN as SEX OBJECTS.”
The mostly female crowd in this overflow room burst into laughter.
So did the Internet:
Update 9:50 by Shelby:
Ya'll, apparently we got that whole recession-thing wrong. Although the census and every demographic study on Texas shows that our population is increasing, a Laubenberg look-a-like blames abortion for the economic crisis due to a lack of people in our state. Or something. Don't worry, I'm sure she had the statistics to back it up.
She also compared rape trauma to non-existent fetal pain.
It's getting late ya'll. But our numbers have gotten better throughout the evening. Keep it going ya'll.
Update 9:41 p.m. by Katherine:
A group of blue-clad protestors have gathered in the mini-rotunda in the extension for an anti-abortion protest.
However, given that their numbers are few, they were surrounded and drowned out by a peaceful marching group of pro-choice advocates, who are singing “We've come too far and we won't turn around / we'll flood the streets with justice we are freedom bound.”
Update 8:51 p.m. by Katherine:
Thank you people of the Internet who sent pizza!
You're helping fuel our opposition to this terrible anti-woman bill and keep us going all night long.
If you want to send more, NOW Austin has a good list of places to contact for delivery.
Please send it to Texas Capitol, Legislative Conference Center, E2.002, 1100 Congress, 78701. If they ask for a name, give them Jessica Luther.
Update 8:29 p.m. by Katherine:
Hot damn! Our own Shelby Alexander just spoke against the bill, detailing her own experiences in this fight, and how four weeks ago she didn't know she'd be back again for another special session, working to defeat this bill again. “I also didn't know that our numbers would continue to increase, that we are a pro-choice majority here in Texas.”
She spoke compellingly about the challenges faced by women in her native El Paso and their barriers to access. She stated, “this is a massive human rights violation. Gosnells occur because of lack of access, because of poverty.”
Shelby closed her testimony by calling out the many politicians who have shamed and thwarted the political process throughout this debate.
Update 8:09 p.m. by Katherine:
The orange-shirt crowd is continuing to grow throughout the evening. The energy is still upbeat and positive. Planned Parenthood continues to organize attendees. Thanks to everyone who has sent pizza and cookies!
If you want to deliver food, now's a good time since a lot of places will close within the next few hours and we expect to be here until past midnight.
NOW Austin has a good list of places to contact for delivery.
Please send it to Texas Capitol, Legislative Conference Center, E2.002, 1100 Congress, 78701. If they ask for a name, give them Jessica Luther.
Update 7:25 by Shelby:
Stopped and talked to Wendy and her husband, who said it was their first time inside the State Capitol. They said it was important to be here in order to document what is going on. Wendy said it best:
“We're not free if we can't control our own bodies.”
Update 7:20 by Shelby:
Biased, pushy doctor testifying, who doesn't represent any organization seems to think he knows more than all of ACOG and THA combined. Says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Hospital Association apparently just have it wrong.
Update 7:05 p.m. by Shelby:
Stepped outside a bit to see what was going on. Many more orange in lines and in hallways, but we could still use more. Outside, the antis were throwing their own oppression-fest to listen to a dude who talked about “counseling” women on their pregnancies; aka told them what to do in a situation he would never physically experience. Fun stuff ya'll.
Update 6:20 p.m. by Shelby:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came right after the Texas Hospital Association against HB 2. If you want to watch politicians act like they know better than physicians, this is the best time to tune in.
This is what their official letter has to say:
“The Texas bills are a compilation of over-reaching measures to control when, where, and how a woman has an abortion,” said ACOG Texas District Chair Lisa M. Hollier, MD, MPH. “The bills are not based on sound science, despite our efforts to provide the legislature with the best available medical knowledge. The bills would erode women's health by denying the women of Texas the benefits of well-researched, safe, and proven protocols.”
Update 6:10 p.m. by Shelby:
A representative from the Texas Hospital Association came to testify against #HB2. After thorough questioning by the committee members, it's clear that there aren't very many physicians who perform abortions that have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals, and that it would essentially ban abortion. Why? It's based on what services your hospital provides. Therefore, if you hospital doesn't provide abortions, which many don't, why would you admit them in your hospital? Despite that, it would not matter whether or not an abortion-performing physician had admitting privileges because if there were complications, it would be up to the ER physicians, not the doctor with admitting privileges.
As the representative from the THA said, “This is an inappropriate way to guarantee the safety of a woman.”
Update 5:58 by Katherine:
Last time the anti-choice activists specifically chose not to testify to prevent the hearing from taking too long, so as to not delay passage of the bill. This time they are here in full force.
I particularly enjoyed this fellow's shirt. Apparently wanting to decide when I get pregnant and by whom is something I need to be protected from. Apparently not having the child of my rapist is something I need to be protected from. And apparently being able to end an unviable pregnancy is something I need to be protected from, too.
Dude, if you really want to protect us, LET US HAVE CONTROL OVER OUR BODIES.
It's not that hard.
Update 5:47 p.m. by Katherine:
I will now sum up the anti-choice testimony in favor of this bill so far:
“Something something abortions are home invasions, something something prescription medications for dogs something something Notre Dame.”
Folks watching along on the feed, did I miss anything? Tweet your favorite testimony to @KathTX.
|Update 5:17 by Katherine:|
A Republican woman from Williamson County was the first speaker against the bill. She said she was opposed to government intrusion. “I would not intrude on something so personal as the choice as to when to become a parent.”
She spoke movingly about the poverty she grew up in and her father's abuse of her mother, and how her mother was able to have an abortion when she got pregnant and could not afford to feed another mouth.
The anti-choice blue-shirts in the room shifted nervously in their seats and did not seem sympathetic to the woman's struggles.
Update 5:16 p.m. by Katherine:
Representative Jose Menendez just wrapped up questioning of a witness from DSHS about the ambulatory surgical center facility upgrades that would be required of abortion clinics, and would shut down 37 of 42 clinics.
Menendez noted that a previous witness testified that birth is more dangerous than abortion. (A study by the Guttmacher Institute found that women were 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than from an abortion.)
He asked if birthing centers are required to have the same level of safety compliance as ambulatory surgical centers. The answer was no — birthing centers are not inspected as regularly and are not held to the same standards of those which are being forced on abortion clinics.
Update 5:15 p.m. by Shelby:
Before the beginning of our live-blog, I went to meet up with a fellow El Pasoan Andra, who drove all 8 hours (9 when you consider the time change) with her son, to testify against HB 2. We both graduated from Eastwood High School, which is currently represented by Representative Joe Pickett, the only current member of the El Paso delegation who has supported anti-women legislation in the last special session. Andra shared with me her own struggles with her personal health care while pregnant and after having her son. Things that politicians don't seem to be so concerned about, like ensuring compassionate, comprehensive care for mothers in need once they no longer qualify for Medicaid after 8 weeks. Ensuring care for the mental health of mothers in need, we agreed, didn't seem to be as much of a priority for Texas politicians, as it was to regulate when and how women could potentially have a child.
We talked about how these bills weren't just going to negatively affect women in El Paso, but women living across the border in Mexico as well. About 30% of the patients at the El Paso clinic are from Mexico. These women are denied this safe, legal procedure everywhere else except in Mexico City. Additionally, the nearest clinics afterwards to these women will be more than 4 hours away- with border patrol on both sides. This would severely hurt El Paso and its sister-city Juarez, as well as harming undocumented women around Texas. These are the women who our legislators are not concerned about. The women in and outside of our borders.
This legislation violates human rights so immensely and completely beyond these legislators' comprehension.
Update 4:47 p.m. by Katherine:
Planned Parenthood has made clear the impact that this legislation would have on Texas women and their access to abortion. The graphic at right demonstrates how many clinics would be closed if the clinics are required to make unnecessary and expensive upgrades.
Can you imagine if someone introduced a bill in the Legislature to require gun stores to make expensive, unnecessary upgrades?!
HB 2 is part of a national tidal wave of abortion restrictions — so far in 2013, over 300 provisions to restrict abortion access have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide. Abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures. These back-door bans are simply designed to allow politicians to make this important choice for the women in their state.
Republicans are just trying to cloak paternalism in their phony veneer of concern for Texas women's “safety.” This behavior has no place in any legislature, and no place in Texas.
Update 4:34 p.m. by Katherine:
Over 1600 witnesses had already signed in to testify on the bill as of 3:45 p.m. Planned Parenthood continues to organize pro-choice Texans who came to watch the hearing and speak against the bill. You can see their sign-in table at right. Orange “Stand With Texas Women” shirts are also available.
Witnesses will be called at random, so folks who want to speak will have to remain on alert and head to the hearing room if their name is called. It's worth noting that not all 1600 people will be able to speak in the next 7.5 hours.
Update 4:25 pm from Shelby:
Representative Jessica Farrar just wrapped up attempting to debate Laubenberg. Farrar broke down the aspects of the bill to what exceptions were available to pregnant women in the 20 week ban. As they went through them, Farrar clarified that cancer patients and women on suicide watch would not fall under those exceptions.
Farrar asked Laubenberg if she was attempting to redefine viability, however, Laubenberg continued to claim that she was “only talking about pain, not viability,” disagreeing they were connected.
As Farrar explained that viability if legally flexible, which varies in pregnancies, she asked Laubenberg if she was trying to prove a new constitutional standard. To which Laubenberg finally agreed yes, it is a new constitutional standard, and that it would be likely to be debated on in higher courts. Which revealed again the right's attempts through the 20 week ban to challenge Roe v. Wade in the higher courts.
Update 4:07 p.m. from Katherine:
The image at the right is the extension auditorium. The hearing is NOT being held there, despite its ability to hold 345 souls. State Rep. Jessica Farrar specifically asked if the auditorium was available at the outset of this hearing, which is being held in a very small room.
Chairman Byron Cook stated concerns about “security.” For what it's worth, there are several DPS troopers at the entrance of the room and the mood is extremely calm and serene. (In fact, one lady shushed another lady for whispering to her friend.)
As you can see in the photo at bottom right, the crowd is overwhelmingly orange.
Update 4:05 p.m. from Shelby:
Representative Sylvester Turner continues his questioning of Laubenberg, asking if she thinks this bill will close abortion clinics. Laubenberg disagrees with Turner that this bill will close clinics. Asks if these clinic closures would have adverse effects on women. Laubenberg avoids the question, and insists that Turner's questions are hypothetical. Continues to say all of these situations are “hypothetical.”
Update 3:45 p.m. from Katherine:
Before testimony began, Rep. Sylvester Turner asked why not use the auditorium for the hearing given the number of people in attendance. Cook claimed concerns about “security.” Rep. Jessica Farrar noted that this room is smaller than usual committee hearings, and raised questions about whether the auditorium was available.
Given that people are currently sitting in the auditorium watching a video feed of the hearing, it's pretty clear that the room choice was deliberate and intended to keep Texans out of the process. Again.
Update 3:40 p.m. from Katherine:
The hearing was called to order shortly after 3:30 p.m. Chairman Cook laid out the ground rules for the hearing, and then called for mutual respect from those here to testify.
That's rich, coming from someone who refused to let everyone testify in the first session and who has already indicated that the testimony of actual Texans will make no impact on committee members:
Update 3:15 p.m. from Katherine:
There are considerably more anti-choice advocates here today than there were during yesterday's 6,000+ person pro-choice rally. They arrived early in an apparent attempt to take up as many of the speaking slots for the hearing as possible.
Update 3:00 p.m. from Katherine:
There's plenty of energy down in the Capitol extension as activists from both sides assemble. Planned Parenthood had a table to sign up supporters, collect information, and explain the process.
Orange-clad volunteers are stationed every 50 years or so between the Capitol entrances and the sign-in kiosks to make sure that folks who came out to speak or simply stand witness know what to do. It's a pretty well-organized operation.
Folks are still encouraged to come down to the Capitol extension and sit in one of the many overflow rooms to watch the live-feed.