Hundreds sign up to testify on Texas abortion bill

Rules imposed by panel's top Republican mean no more than 140 members of public would get chance to speak

By Phil Archer - Reporter

AUSTIN - More than 700 people signed up to testify about proposed abortion restrictions before a Texas House committee on Tuesday, but rules imposed by the panel's top Republican mean no more than 140 members of the public would get a chance to speak.

State Rep. Byron Cook imposed an eight hour limit on the hearing, with each person getting just three minutes before the committee, and he chose a room with only 64 available seats.

The restrictions come after a similar hearing two weeks ago turned into a 12-hour marathon when 700 protesters slowed the passage of the bill in the first special session.

A Democratic filibuster and an angry crowd stopped the bill from becoming law a few days later leading GOP Gov. Rick Perry to call the Legislature back for a second special session.

Democrats questioned Cook about why he chose such a small room, more than a third of which was reserved for staff, lawmakers and media.

"We wanted to ensure the maximum security for every person who is here," the Corsicana Republican said.

Cook also said he was limiting testimony because hundreds of people had already testified during the regular and first special sessions.

Reps. Jessica Farrar and Sylvester Turner, both Houston Democrats, asked Cook to schedule additional hearings to allow everyone a chance to speak, but Cook refused.

After Democrats successfully ran out the clock of the first special session, Republicans appeared to be set on passing the measure as quickly as possible in the new 30 day special session.

Conceding that Republicans have the votes to pass the measure, Rep. Turner told Local 2 News; "Regardless of what happens on this particular bill, I think this discussion, this debate, it's not over."

About 1200 people registered either support or opposition to the bill at electronic kiosks installed near the hearing room.

Live video of the hearing was fed into nine other hearing rooms, where demonstrators filled up additional seats and overflowed into hallways.

They appeared to be equally split between supporters of the bill wearing blue and opponents wearing orange.

Laura Corman of Austin said she came to speak in opposition to the bill because she fears it will force health clinics currently providing health services for women to close.

She also contends the choice should be left up to women, not to the government, saying;

"I have a 12 year old daughter and I want her to be able to make those choices with me as her mother, and her doctor together."

Lori Lett also cited family concerns as her reason for driving in from Crosby to speak in support of the bill, saying; "My boys are adopted. They could have been aborted. That's why I wanted to come, and voice my opinion. When I heard what was going on, I wanted to be here."

House Bill 2 would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require that the procedure be performed at ambulatory surgical centers, mandate that doctors who perform abortions obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and that even pill-induced abortions must take place in a surgical center.

Rep. Jody Laubenberg, R-Parker, insisted the bill is intended "to protect the health and safety of every woman who undergoes an abortion."

Under questioning from Farrar, she refused to answer whether the state had any data to show that women needed the additional regulations.

Only five out of 42 clinics in Texas qualify as ambulatory surgical centers and they are located only in major metropolitan areas.

Other Republicans have acknowledged that the ultimate goal is to shutter abortion clinics.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.