Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Abortion restrictions bill on ramming speed

The usual middle-of-the-night, cut-off-public-testimony, party-line-vote kind of thing.

On Monday, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) warned that he would end testimony on House Bill 2, the sweeping anti-abortion bill, at midnight (Tuesday) no matter how many people wanted to testify. He said the House Committee on State Affairs might vote on the bill. And that’s exactly what happened.

Shortly after midnight, Cook put the bill to a vote and it passed on a 8-3 vote. More than 1,000 people who had signed up to speak were cut off. Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) was left sputtering that he had amendments he wanted to propose to the committee. “You know you’re wrong,” he said to Cook. But the Republican plan for this second special has been obvious: Use their large majorities in the House and the Senate to muscle the bill through and avoid another star-making moment like the Wendy Davis filibuster.

Tonight’s hearing was theater. The author of HB 2, Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, studiously stuck to her script, reading from prepared remarks or responding to questions from Democrats on the committee with terse responses focused on “the health and safety of the woman.” There wasn’t going to be any “rape kits” goof tonight.

The number of Texans who appeared to give public testimony varied greatly. By one early account it was 1100, another 1900. Cook's rules, however, meant that a total of just 140 would actually have time to do so. It turned out to be less than a hundred who got to speak.

Testimony on the bill ranged from the heart-breakingly personal to the completely bizarre. (One man said he knew of a woman’s get-rich-quick scheme whereby she would encourage high school girls to get pregnant and then provide them with abortions. Her goal was to make $1 million at a rate of $25 profit per abortion. Another man, in favor of HB 2, established his bona fides by telling the committee that he was a “professional juggler” and “sidewalk angel.” Yet another man complained that his sister getting an abortion deprived him of the chance to be an uncle.)

Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists and some Republican lawmakers worried that Satan had gotten personally involved in the debate.

One report, back channel but first hand, indicated that the throttling efforts began early: the HB2 hearing was held in a room smaller than the Extension Auditorium, or even the normal committee room that State Affairs typically uses (in the Reagan building). GOP leadership also denied access to the Legislative Conference Center, the room that pro-choice activists used to organize last week. Texpate has another account from last night.

With 3,543 people signed up to testify, after getting started a little behind schedule (what a surprise), the Committee barely made it through 100 people before Cook took the unilateral, though not unexpected, step of cutting off public comment. Shortly after Midnight, without much warning, Cook abruptly ended the debate and took a vote. 8-3, along party lines in favor. However, the vote was taken so quickly that two Democrats could not return to the desk. Accordingly, the real vote should have been 8-5.

Shortly thereafter, the Capitol got cleared and locked down. The result, in the above photograph, was roughly 1000-1700 angry protesters banging on the doors to their place of government while 7 White Men and 1 White Woman, in the dead of night, passed punitively burdensome restrictions on the right to abortion.

The bill will move on to the full House next Tuesday when the body is scheduled to reconvene. The Senate committee will take similar action in short order. The bills will get a brief airing in the full chambers, pass according to party affiliation -- with a few notable exceptions, primarily fervent Catholic Democratic men joining the Republicans -- and move swiftly to the governor for signature, perhaps as quickly as a week from now.

The Republicans can do whatever they feel like doing in Texas, just because they can, and they aren't going to let anybody or anything -- certainly not a trifling thing like democracy or the voice of the people -- stop them.

With fresh polling indicating that the Democrats are just as far away from taking back the governor's mansion as they ever have been over the past twelve years; with the same poll suggesting that Rick Perry has strengthened his hand among GOP primary voters -- the only people who count for anything in this state -- there is absolutely nothing that the Republicans in the Legislature feel except some minor annoyance over the whole affair. Kuffner has more insight into the polling.

There's going to be one opportunity to send a message that sounds any different to them. And that will come in November of 2014. Between now and then, the people who oppose this authoritarian display, not to mention this legislation, have their work cut precisely out for them.

Update: Salon's Joan Walsh points out that progressive women in red states will be a key constituency in hastening the change. Because it ain't just Texas where this shit is going down.

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