Texas lawmakers convened to consider restrictions that might close most abortion clinics as partisans in color-coded shirts rallied under the eyes of mounted police.
The Texas House of Representatives plans a hearing tomorrow, and neither it nor the Senate is planning to vote on the measure until next week.
Anti-abortion supporters today ringed the second floor balcony overlooking an atrium, singing “Amazing Grace.” Outside, Dixie Chicks star Natalie Maines sang the national anthem to women’s rights advocates as organizers handed out bottles of water in 90-degree heat.
Last week, lawmakers came close to approving abortion limits before Democratic Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth spoke against them more than 10 hours to run out the clock on a special legislative session. When Republicans forced a vote, they were prevented from meeting their midnight deadline by jeering protesters. Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, called another 30-day session this week to reconsider the measure.
“Women in Texas have been angry and discouraged for a long time,” Davis told reporters after the Senate completed its session today. “This is the first time that that anger is giving way to hope.”
The legislation would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and require that they be performed in ambulatory surgical centers by doctors with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 kilometers). Most clinics would have to alter facilities to meet the requirements, which abortion-rights advocates say they can’t afford. Doctors at other clinics may struggle to win privileges.
The Texas House State Affairs Committee will hear testimony on the bill tomorrow afternoon and ending at midnight local time, said Representative Byron Cook, a Republican.
“Nobody’s mind will be changed by the testimony at this point,” he said in an interview. He said he expects hundreds of people to sign up, with statements limited to three minutes.
The House of Representatives bill must pass before it is considered by the Senate. Both chambers, which are dominated by Republicans, will be adjourned until next week except for committee meetings.
“We will pass the bill,” Perry said today on Dallas radio station WBAP. “These abortion mills make hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” he said, adding that if any clinics close “it becomes very apparent they are only in this for the money.”
Democrats know odds are slim that they can block the bills, said Senator Kirk Watson of Austin, a Democrat.
“They may win this battle because of timing or votes, but I believe we will win this war,” he said.
“People outside this building are connecting the dots that show there is a continuing war on Texas women,” he said, citing reduced spending for women’s health clinics, Perry’s veto of a bill aimed at raising pay for women to the same level as men, and the proposed abortion restrictions.
Not all Texas women are with him.
Karen Davis, 63, drove about 200 miles (322 kilometers) from Clear Lakes to attend the anti-abortion rally after a call for action from the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The bishops called us to come and pray,” said Davis, a full-time volunteer. “We have to stand up for what we believe.”
Mary Anne Whiteley, 42, brought her daughters, ages 8 and 14, to support abortion restrictions. The Whiteleys, who live in Pflugerville, an Austin suburb, were wearing blue shirts signaling their anti-abortion stance. Abortion-rights supporters wore orange shirts.
“Abortion takes away the choice of the unborn baby,” Whiteley said.
Sandra Seekamp, a retired Austin teacher, attended today’s rally because she fears fewer Texas women will have access to abortions if the bill passes.
“I taught for 25 years and I know kids are going to have sex whether we like it or not,” said Seekamp, 65. “The bill that would cut the number of clinics is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.”
About a dozen women from the Dallas-Fort Worth area drove to Austin to show support for Davis, said one of them, Kirsten Rundberget, an optical-systems engineer. They wore long-sleeved dresses typical of the 1910s to draw attention to abortion restrictions in place in the 20th century.
“We’re still fighting the same battles of our mothers and grandmothers,” Rundberget said. “You can’t be a citizen without controlling your own body.”