Texas Republicans ram through anti-abortion legislation in dead of night

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, June 24, 2013 9:30 EDT
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Pro-choice demonstrators flood the Texas capitol. Photo: Courtesy, Nakia Winfield.
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Update: The Texas House rushed through final approval of the bill on Monday morning. It now heads to the Senate for reconciliation before final passage.

Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives voted in the wee hours of Monday morning to cut off a marathon 15-hour debate over a bill that would close nearly all the state’s abortion clinics and ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, overwhelmingly approving the highly contentious measure after Democrats pulled out all the stops to gum up the process.

Senate Bill 5 still have to pass on third reading in the House, which is expected later Monday morning. It then moves to the Texas Senate for reconciliation, during which time a Democratic Senator could potentially filibuster the bill until the end of the special session on Tuesday at midnight.

Sunday night’s debate began just after 6 p.m. CST as over 800 protesters swarmed the capitol wearing burnt orange and holding pro-choice placards. Inside the legislature, Democrats furiously filibustered the bill using every parliamentary tactic they could, constantly asking speakers to repeat themselves and filing dozens of amendments based upon the many concerns that medical groups have expressed about the legislation.

At one point during the debate, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) offered an amendment that would have added an exception to a proposed 20-week abortion ban for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. However, the primary sponsor, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R), refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Thompson’s concern.

“We do not live under Sharia law!” Thompson boomed on the House floor, pulling out a coat hanger and pointing it at her Republican colleagues. “To be raped, it’s a violent act. It’s something she has to live with for the rest of her life… Do you want to return back to the coat hanger? Or do you want to give them the option to terminate their pregnancy because they have been raped?”

Laubenberg replied by insisting that even if a fetus was the result of rape or incest, at 20 weeks “we’re looking at a baby.” Laubenberg added that if a woman is raped, she can go to a hospital and obtain “what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” A rape kit does not actually terminate a pregnancy, and is instead used to collect evidence against rapists. Thompson’s amendment was subsequently tabled and Republicans voted it down.

Several times Democrats questioned the House Speaker as to why Laubenberg refused to stand and defend her bill and answer questions, leading to Democrats endlessly asking each other questions about their own amendments in an effort to run out the clock and raise substantive concerns about the likely effects of this legislation. Republicans largely kept out of the debate before moving to shut it down in the early hours of Monday morning, in what The Associated Press called “a highly unusual and partisan move.” The bill passed 97-33, with three Democrats joining Republicans.

Once the House gives final approval to the bill on third reading Monday morning, it must sit and wait 24 hours before the Senate takes it up and approves the changes made in the House. If Texas Republicans can pull that off before midnight on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry (R) said he will sign it into law, guaranteeing that all buy five of the state’s abortion clinics will be forced to shut down in 2014.

After Republicans voted to cut off debate and pass the bill just after 4 a.m. CST, a group of onlookers were caught by a Texas Tribune camera being escorted out by police as they shouted “shame on you!” Dozens of those remaining in the gallery gathered in the rotunda as Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) thanked them for their support, saying the “people’s filibuster” last week and their support on Sunday bought Democrats time enough to potentially stop this bill. “It’s conceivable that there could be a filibuster [in the Senate] now because of what you did,” she told the crowd.

This video is from The Texas Tribune, published Monday, June 24, 2013.


[Photo: Courtesy, Nakia Winfield.]

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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