Late Friday night, the Texas senate voted to approve an omnibus anti-abortion bill as thousands of furious Texans, dressed in orange, packed the state capitol rotunda, filled the hallways with deafening renditions of the ’80s hair metal hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and took to the streets to march for reproductive rights. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst began a new legislative day two minutes after the senate’s approval of HB 2 on its second reading, enabling lawmakers to approve HB 2 for a third and final vote. HB 2 now goes to the governor’s desk for his signature, which is all but assured.
Texas Republicans finally succeeded in pushing the bill through in the state legislature’s second 30-day special session, an action typically reserved for emergencies. But after a regular session of so-called compromise, wherein Republicans promised not to introduce any new limitations on abortion in Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry placed abortion on the first special session’s call, only to be thwarted at the last hour by a Democratic filibuster led by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth).
Perry didn’t repeat his mistake in the second special session, putting abortion on the initial call on July 1 with plenty of time to spare. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst pitched in, as he did in the first special session, by suspending a “two-thirds rule” that allows legislators to present a bill without the usual two-thirds majority required from the senate. That rule is generally seen as a nod toward bipartisanship, allowing senate democrats a modicum of power in the Republican-dominated senate.
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Without that rule, state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) was free to propose HB 2 and see it wind its way through committees and floor hearings.
But passing a bill that will make safe, legal abortion all but impossible to perform and access was more important than bipartisanship, or in many cases, the basic democratic process. Throughout the last three weeks, Republican committee chairs and house and senate leaders have shut down public testimony, first during the “people’s filibuster” on June 20, in “formal hearings” where no testimony was taken, and blatantly modified voting records in an attempt to pass legislation that a majority of Texans do not support.
HB 2 bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges, restricts the prescription of medical abortions, and mandates 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. The remaining legal abortion clinics will be located in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.
Hegar, a rice farmer, rejected all 20 of the senate democrats’ proposed amendments, which included an exception for rape and incest victims to the 20-week ban, an attempt to shore-up sex education, and a rule allowing teen moms to obtain birth control without parental approval. Democrats said that all the amendments were intended to reduce the need for abortion in the first place, but Hegar repeated his usual mantra, saying the bill is only about “improving the standard of care” in abortion clinics. When it came to contraception and teen pregnancy, Hegar said those topics weren’t “germane” to the abortion issue.
If HB 2 goes into effect—a court battle over the constitutionality of the bill is likely—it is expected to be dangerous and deadly for the state’s poorest and most rural residents, who will be forced to drive hundreds of miles round-trip, over a multi-day series of appointments, to access safe, legal abortion—if there are any doctors with admitting privileges to perform the procedure.