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Panel Hears Testimony on Proposed Abortion Restrictions

After closing public testimony just after <span class="aBn" data-term="goog_1931865423"><span class="aQJ">midnight</span></span>, the House State Affairs Committee voted 8-3, along party lines, to approve House Bill 2.
Updated, July 3, 12:15 a.m.:

After closing public testimony just after midnight, the House State Affairs Committee voted 8-3, along party lines, to approve House Bill 2.

Public testimony was closed before more than 1,000 people who wished to testify on the bill were given the opportunity. Of the 3,543 people who registered a position on the bill, fewer than 100 testified -- in nearly equal number for and against the bill -- before midnight.

According to state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, 2,181 people had registered in support of the bill, while 1,355 had registered against it.

"The time clock has not run out on this special session, and I do believe the people who come here do have a right to have their voices heard," state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, told the committee. He voted against the bill.

Allen Parker, president of the conservative Justice Foundation, was the last person to testify.

People waiting in the committee room called out requests to testify.

"My mom died of a back-alley abortion, and I want to testify," a man called out from the audience. He added that he'd waited more than seven hours.

"When you posted this hearing, you posted it to close at 12:01," Geren said in defense of the committee chair's decision to close public testimony. "I don't believe you have to take anymore public testimony."

Updated, 10:47 p.m.:

Advocates from across Texas shared personal stories for several hours Tuesday with House lawmakers on why they supported or opposed the proposed regulations on abortion procedures, facilities and providers in House Bill 2.

Approximately 3,000 people registered a position on the bill at the House State Affairs Committee. Those who testified before the midnight deadline spoke in relatively even numbers for and against the bill. Those against the bill argued that it would restrict access to legal abortion and deprive women of autonomy over their own bodies. Those supporting the bill said it would raise safety standards, promote women's health and protect unborn children.

Multiple women in favor of the legislation told stories of being coerced into having abortions at a young age. Others described the trauma they experienced during abortion or in the years following the procedure.

"I speak on behalf of the children who will be missed, because they were murdered prior to be being born," said a woman who testified in favor of the bill while holding an infant in her arms. She described how her parents forced her to have an abortion when she became pregnant at age 15.

"I wanted to keep my child, but my parents didn't want that," she said. Although she asked the doctor to stop during the procedure, the woman told lawmakers, the doctor said she would thank him later.

Other women reaffirmed their choice to have an abortion, and argued that depriving women access to abortions would lead more women to seek out illegal, unsafe abortion procedures. Some women described being raped, and defended women's right to choose to have an abortion.

"My conscience is clear," one woman said. "If your religion prevents [abortion], then by all means you should not have one. But that was the right decision for me."

HB 2, and its companion, Senate Bill 1, would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and recognize that the state has a compelling interest to protect fetuses from pain; require doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the facility; require doctors to administer the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 in person, rather than allow the woman to take it at home; and require abortions -- including drug-induced ones -- to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the State Affairs Committee, who didn't indicate when a vote on HB 2 would be held, said that public testimony on the bill would end at midnight.

In response, one woman told the House panel that it was not democratic to end public testimony before hundreds of people could testify on the bill. "There are hundreds of other voices that you are not going to hear," she said. "This kind of silencing is unacceptable."

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and some advocates said that the testimony of proponents and critics did not reflect the crowd that had gathered outside the committee room -- most of whom wore orange to indicate their opposition to HB 2. Cook responded that he was attempting to provide each side an equal opportunity to testify by switching back and forth between supporters and opponents of the bill.

Jessica Luther, an abortion rights advocate testifying against the bill, urged lawmakers to consider the circumstances of the women seeking abortion, particularly those who seek an abortion after 20 weeks. "What about the 15-year-old who is so terrified about telling her family?" she asked, "and the women, who may not have the education to understand what's happening?"

She disputed evidence that abortion facilities and procedures are unsafe.

"If we really cared about the lives of women, we'd be worried about maternal health," she said. "It's more dangerous in this state to give birth, something I've done, than to have an abortion."

A survivor of sexual assault testifying against the bill told lawmakers, "This is not about protecting women and our health, but about closing down clinics." She said Gov. Rick Perry used the "language of sexual violence," when he told supporters of the legislation at the National Right to Life convention in Dallas that the "louder [opponents of the bill] scream, the more we know we are getting something done."

A disabled man testified that his parents nearly aborted him, because he was diagnosed with fetal abnormalities. "Is my life in a body without arms worth it?" he asked lawmakers, and then described how he had been married for eight years and had two children. He asked lawmakers to remove the exception in HB 2 for fetal abnormalities.

Another man emphasized opponents and supporters of the bill have the same goal -- to improve women's health -- and that no one wants another Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania doctor who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a baby born alive in a botched abortion. "We don't have to be so at each other's throats, let's commit to upgrade these clinics, please," the man said.

Dr. Bradley Price, an obstetrician and gynecologist testifying against the bill, called HB 2 "extremely intrusive into the practice of medicine."

In response to questions from Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo -- who asked if fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and if they have developed hair, fingernails and major organs -- Price said the provision to ban abortion at 20 weeks on the premise that fetuses can feel pain is not based on "sound science."

"As our scientific and our medical knowledge advances, so does our moral responsibility as a state, and that's what HB 2 accomplishes," John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, said in defense of the language that says fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks development in HB 2.

Adryana Boyne, the national director of Voces Action, a conservative Latino advocacy group, also ardently defended evidence that fetuses can fe

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