Texas Lawmakers Cut Off Public Testimony And Advance Controversial Abortion Restrictions

Thousands of protesters rally at the Texas capitol on Monday (Credit: Reuters/Mike Stone)

Texas activists, who have been working to defeat a package of abortion restrictions for the past several weeks, are back at it now that their lawmakers are taking up the measures yet again in a second special session. On Monday, an estimated 5,000 activists rallied at the state capitol. And on Tuesday, thousands of protesters registered to testify against the anti-abortion legislation.

But early on Wednesday morning, a Texas House committee ultimately cut off the ongoing public testimony and voted to advance the contentious abortion restrictions, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks and shut down the vast majority of the abortion clinics in the state. According to the Associated Press, Republicans in the House also imposed “strict security precautions” to prevent women’s health advocates from disrupting the vote.

More than 3,500 people flooded the capitol on Tuesday to register their opposition to the abortion restrictions. The AP estimates that about 1,100 of those people also signed up to testify before the House committee, although Dallas News reports that figure was actually closer to 2,300. The protesters filled up about seven overflow rooms in the capitol.

“In terms of witnesses, the system has never seen overload like this,” Rep. Helen Giddings (D), the vice chairwoman of the House State Affairs Committee, noted.

Nonetheless, fewer than 100 people were actually given a chance to express their views before the committee. House Republicans decided to limited testimony to eight hours, cutting it off around midnight despite several requests to extend it. “We took testimony in the regular session, in the first special. We’ve taken a lot of testimony,” House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook (R) said in reference to his decision to prevent the remaining protesters from speaking.

During the first special session, hundreds of Texans testified against the abortion bill and effectively prevented it from coming to a vote — a “people’s filibuster” that ultimately helped block the legislation. Since the second special session commenced on Monday, however, Republicans have made it clear that they intend to circumvent those tactics and ensure the legislation’s passage. The anti-abortion measures will be taken up by the full House next week, when Texas lawmakers return from the holiday recess.

Despite the bill’s ultimate advancement, Sen. Wendy Davis (D) praised the activists’ efforts. “Thousands of people showed up at the Capitol today to testify and to observe the testimony. I expect that we’ll see that same sort of turnout when the bill is heard in Senate committee hearing, which is going to take place on Monday morning, is my understanding,” Davis said on MSNBC on Tuesday night. “And we expect or hope that their voices will add in a way that makes a difference in the way some of these lawmakers are considering this bill.”