Texas House sets vote on abortion restrictions
Advocates rally, prepare for days of long hearings
AUSTIN, Texas — State Republicans on Monday pushed on with aggressive efforts to approve tough abortion restrictions they were prevented from passing last month, scheduling a House vote and beginning what promised to be a prolonged public hearing about the legislation.
Activists for and against the proposed restrictions descended on the Capitol for the hearing. Antiabortion demonstrators staged a rally Monday, and abortion rights activists march through downtown Austin about the same time.
Governor Rick Perry, who was in San Antonio to announce he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2014, has pledged the Legislature’s Republican majority will pass the new restrictions in the current 30-day special session. The House Calendars Committee met early Monday and scheduled a Tuesday debate and vote on the measure.
Texas has been at the center of the national abortion debate since Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis succeeded in preventing the Legislature from passing the new restrictions last month by staging a nearly 13-hour filibuster on the session’s last day. Perry called lawmakers into the special session to take up the bill again.
A new abortion law in Wisconsin, meanwhile, was temporarily blocked Monday night by a federal judge. The law bans doctors who lack admitting privileges at nearby hospitals from performing abortions.
US District Judge William Conley granted a temporary restraining order following a hearing in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services. It alleged the requirement would unconstitutionally restrict the availability of abortions in the state and unconstitutionally treat doctors who perform abortions differently from those who perform other procedures.
The restraining order will remain in place pending a fuller hearing July 17. In his ruling, Conley said ‘‘there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement.’’ He said the US Supreme Court has ruled that states must prove that restrictions on abortion rights be reasonably aimed at preserving the mother’s health.
Federal judges in Alabama and Mississippi have issued orders stopping similar laws from being implemented after finding they might result in substantial burdens for women seeking abortions.
In Texas, the Senate Health and Human Service Committee began what promised to be a long public hearing on that state’s legislation Monday, as more than 2,000 people — some of whom showed up before dawn — registered to testify or log a position on the bill. About 475 signed up to give two minutes of testimony each while others simply wanted to register an opinion on the bill.
Last week, a House panel heard eight hours of testimony from about 100 witnesses, but cut off thousands more who had registered. Unlike the House, which has online registration, the Senate required witnesses to register in person.
Senate chairwoman Jane Nelson, a Republican, said she was willing to allocate more time for testimony than the House did, but still needed to place a limit. She said the panel would not vote at the hearing’s conclusion.
‘‘We’ll stay here the rest of the week if necessary,’’ to hear witnesses, Nelson said, promising there would be ‘‘no breaks.’’
Activists from both sides roamed the hallways, packed rooms, and waited for their chance to speak. Security was tight, but the gathering lacked the tension of a protest at a House hearing last week, when demonstrators chanted, sang, and prayed their way around crowded hallways.