Unwilling to stay up late, Texas state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) shut down a public hearing just after midnight Tuesday night with over 1,000 people waiting to testify on the omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, that would close all but five abortion clinics in the state.
Cook, the chair of Texas’ House State Affairs Committee, told his fellow representatives earlier in the evening that they wouldn’t take a vote on the bill that night. But despite the protests of his Democratic colleague Sylvester Turner, the committee clerk began taking a roll call at 12:11 a.m. for a vote.
Turner, who had intended to propose amendments to HB 2 during Tuesday night’s hearing, chastised Cook: “Mr. Chairman, you know you’re wrong for that!”
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Cook dismissed Turner and his amendments: “You can propose them on the floor.”
Anti-choice Texas lawmakers have shown that they are willing to run roughshod over rules, promises, and procedures to pass legislation opposed by all but a handful of extreme right-wing zealots. When Cook began the committee vote on HB 2, he did the same thing to Sylvester Turner that Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst did to state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) last Tuesday in the senate chamber: He pretended he couldn’t hear his Democratic colleague’s voice.
Texas citizens have shown up in droves in opposition of the legislation. Some 5,000 people, dressed in orange, came to the capitol Monday afternoon to rally against the bill, with 1,000 more returning to the capitol lawn that evening to march through the streets of downtown Austin.
But Tuesday was the day for the blue-shirted supporters of HB 2 to gather, ahead of the State Affairs Committee meeting that, as has happened multiple times over the past two weeks, saw many of the Texas legislature’s rules and traditions thrown out the window.
Stumping in the middle of the capitol building’s outdoor rotunda, anti-choice bill supporters chanted, gave personal testimony, and sang hymns. A middle-aged man defiantly displayed an “I regret my abortion” placard as, into the early evening, more and more orange shirts filled the hallways to balance out the heavy blue hues of the afternoon.
Of the 90 or so people who were called to testify Tuesday, the majority were in favor of the bill, as Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) observed in frustration around 11 p.m. “It’s still very lopsided,” she said. Cook responded that the committee was “doing the best we can,” but anyone walking through the orange-packed hallways at 10 p.m. could see that bill opponents, many arriving after a long day at work, some with sleepy kids in tow, were being shut out of the hearing.
Among others, the committee heard from a professional juggler and self-described “sidewalk angel” who spends his days trying to convince women not to get abortions; a grey-suited man who waved around a DVD which, he said, contained the story of a nefarious abortionist who secretly infiltrated a small-town Texas high school to distribute ineffective birth control pills so she could make millions off of clueless teenage girls; and a woman who blamed the United States’ “economic crisis” on abortion.
The committee did not hear from the vast majority of the thousands of Texans who live hundreds of miles from the five abortion clinics that will remain if HB 2 passes—Texans whose lives will be threatened as they are driven across the border and into back alleys.
Now that HB 2 has passed the State Affairs Committee, it will go to the house floor for another vote.