Last night in Austin, when the Texas House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 60 – an omnibus anti-abortion bill – something rather amazing happened that’s being called a “people’s filibuster.” Hundreds of people showed up to speak against the bill, and stopped the vote from occurring. It seems likely, however, that it will return before the end of the special session, called by Gov. Perry. The “filibuster” provided a “stall” to the vote, with the idea it will give Democratic legislators time to organize a formal filibuster. Multiple anti-abortion bills were introduced in the regular session. Every bill was prevented from advancing by Democratic Senate and House members. The Senate’s version of the omnibus bill, SB 5, passed. Stopping HB 60 was therefore a critical step for opponents.
From Think Progress: (emphasis added)
Texas lawmakers are currently rushing an omnibus anti-abortion bill through a special session, after each of its provisions failed to advance separately during the regular legislative session. But not without being met with a fight. Over 700 Texans traveled to Austin on Thursday to testify against the anti-abortion measure before it could come to a vote in the House — and their ‘people’s filibuster’ successfully prevented the legislation from advancing.
About SB 5 and HB 60, from the Texas Tribune:
… (T)he drama started Thursday afternoon, when the House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 60, major abortion legislation that would ban the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, change regulations about admitting privileges for physicians who perform abortions and require doctors who administer abortion-inducing drugs to do so in person. (The Senate passed its own version of the bill — without the 20-week ban — on Tuesday.)
According to various reports, including the Think Progress story, those opposing abortion and supporting HB 60 were discouraged from testifying. The thinking seems to have been that bill proponents feared running out of time, as the June 25 conclusion of the special session draws near. Bill opponents obviously chose otherwise. From Think Progress:
… (O)pponents of SB 5 took the opposite approach, organizing hundreds of women’s health advocates to share their testimony in front of the House committee in the hopes of delaying the vote. BOLD An estimated 700 people registered to testify. Some protesters waited up to 12 hours to speak against SB 5, and supporters from across Texas ordered pizza, cookies, and drinks to be delivered to them throughout the night on Thursday.
The testimony ran past 3:00 AM. At the seven hour mark, Republican chairman of the House committee, Rep. Byron Cook, told the crowd of over 300 people waiting to testify that while “impassioned,” the testimony had become “repetitious,” and he’d allow only one more hour. He received loud objections, and ended up allowing three more hours. Think Progress reports that “about 50 additional women” spoke, including this.
‘Our words are not repetitive,’ one woman, Lesli Simms, said during her testimony. ‘Our government’s attacks on our choice, on our bodies, is repetitive.’
The “people’s filibuster” successfully delayed the vote – which is now pending – giving Democratic members of the state legislators some time to organize their efforts. Think Progress makes this important observation:
… Texas’ special session is operating under different rules (than during the regular session) that give Republicans a better chance of being able to rush through SB 5 with fewer votes.
As usual, and as seems likely to continue being the “usual” for who knows how long, women’s reproductive rights are still in jeopardy. Obviously, this is true across the nation. Texas is just one state were such legislative efforts are being made.
(Photo of the message bill opponents projected onto the building where the House committee was meeting is courtesy Tanene Allison, Texas Democratic Party Communications Director.)