As yet another late night of testimony on omnibus anti-abortion legislation continued inside the Texas State Capitol building Monday night, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and reality show star Michelle Duggar made the trip from their home state to headline an anti-choice rally on the pink granite building’s south steps.
Around 2,000 blue-shirted supporters of HB 2 gathered with Huckabee and Duggar, the evangelical Christian star of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, to pray and praise bill sponsors Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) and Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), chanting “Pass the bill!” as the sun began to set over the capitol grounds. Speaking from the steps, Hegar and Laubenberg exuded confidence. Both spoke of nationwide support for their legislation from their fellow citizens—and from God, as assured by the Rev. Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Dallas who brought a little fire and brimstone to an already plenty warm Texas evening.
“Anyone who opposes this bill, whether he realizes it or not, is a tool of Satan!” said Jeffress, quick to remind the crowd of last week’s “Hail Satan!” hubbub, when a few orange-shirted protestors allegedly shouted down a soap-box stumping session for Jesus in the capitol building’s outdoor rotunda.
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Legislative victory is almost certain for anti-choice lawmakers and their supporters, many of which were bused in from out of state to shore up Monday night’s rally and fill the house gallery Tuesday morning. Texas’ majority Republican and Tea Party lawmakers overwhelmingly support HB 2 and its companion bill, SB 1, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, require abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges, restrict the prescription of medical abortions and mandate that all abortion facilities be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, a rule which would shut down all but five abortion facilities currently operating in Texas.
Those five abortion-providing ambulatory surgical centers are located in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, leaving Texans from the Rio Grande Valley, West Texas, and the Panhandle with hundreds of miles between them and access to safe, legal abortion care.
While anti-choice bill supporters surrounded the south steps, their orange-shirted opposition gathered in near-matching numbers at the entrance to the capitol grounds for another march downtown, banging tambourines and chanting, “Whose choice? Our choice!”
Inside the capitol, testimony carried on in front of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee until 1:40 a.m. CST, with 3,800 people registered to witness, though only 400 or so were ultimately able to give spoken testimony. The senate committee left SB 1 pending, waiting for the house to hear its companion bill on the floor Tuesday morning. That body convened at 10 a.m. CST and is expected to hear from house Democrats, who have proposed amendments that would require the state to expand children’s Medicaid and prenatal care for low-income Texans.