Texas lawmakers are currently rushing an omnibus anti-abortion bill through a special session, after each of its provisions failed to advance separately during the regular legislative session. But not without being met with a fight. Over 700 Texans traveled to Austin on Thursday to testify against the anti-abortion measure before it could come to a vote in the House — and their “people’s filibuster” successfully prevented the legislation from advancing.
SB 5 combines several attacks on reproductive access into one measure, and would ultimately force over 90 percent of the abortion clinics in the Lone Star state to close their doors. After the Texas Senate passed SB 5 on Tuesday, a House committee took it up for consideration. Anti-abortion opponents were reportedly discouraged from testifying in favor of the measure before the House vote, in case the legislature runs out of time to approve it before the special session concludes on June 25.
But opponents of SB 5 took the opposite approach, organizing hundreds of women’s health advocates to share their testimony in front of the House committee in the hopes of delaying the vote. An estimated 700 people registered to testify. Some protesters waited up to 12 hours to speak against SB 5, and supporters from across Texas ordered pizza, cookies, and drinks to be delivered to them throughout the night on Thursday.
In the early hours of the morning on Friday, after nearly seven hours of testimony, the Republican chairman of the House committee told more than 300 people who were still waiting in line that they would not be allowed to speak.
“The testimony has been impassioned, but it has become repetitive, so I am going to only allow another hour of testimony on this bill,” state Rep. Byron Cook (R) told a crowd of protesters shortly after midnight. But the 200 women and men in the hearing room, as well as about 100 more people outside, loudly objected. When a Texas State Trooper escorted one woman away from the podium, the protesters all began chanting, “Let her speak!”
When Cook eventually reconvened the hearing, he allowed three more hours of testimony from about 50 additional women. “Our words are not repetitive,” one woman, Lesli Simms, said during her testimony. “Our government’s attacks on our choice, on our bodies, is repetitive.”
The committee chairman concluded the session early on Friday without voting on the anti-abortion legislation.
Opponents of SB 5 hope that their efforts to stall the bill will give Democrats in the legislature enough time to organize a formal filibuster to block it next week. Although Democrats successfully prevented every single piece of anti-abortion legislation from advancing this year, Texas’ special session is operating under different rules that give Republicans a better chance of being able to rush through SB 5 with fewer votes.