The hugely contested omnibus anti-abortion bill, House Bill 2, which threatens to impose some of the toughest abortion rights restrictions in the nation passed in the Texas House Wednesday, with a vote of 96-49 after more than 10 hours of debate. But as the bill heads to the Senate floor, a coalition of pro-choice activists are using every tool they have to keep fighting — from keeping up with legislative schedules to taking nonviolent direct action.
The House passed the bill after the House Committee on State Affairs hosted a second hearing on HB 2 last Tuesday, approving it shortly after midnight and cutting off the more than 1,000 voices who still wished to testify on the bill. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session after State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and hundreds of Texans successfully thwarted Texas Republicans’ plans to pass the bill with a bold 11-hour filibuster.
Now that the bill has passed the Texas House, the earliest it can move to the Senate floor is Friday, unless it becomes “tagged” by a legislator, which would put a 48-hour hold on the bill. Democratic lawmakers have offered more than two-dozen amendments to the bill, but all have been rejected by the bill’s author, Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker).
Five people affiliated with the activist group RiseUp Texas were arrested Wednesday for disrupting the legislative proceedings just as the vote was occurring, with one woman shouting,”I’m a queer woman of color. I object to these proceedings,” as Texas Department of Public Safety troopers moved in, eventually escorting her out of the House gallery.
RiseUp Texas is a coalition of organizations and individuals working in coordinated groups through Occupy-style general assemblies.
“All of the love that we have been getting from across the nation has inspired us to stick it out through all of the atrocious things that we have seen here over the past couple of weeks,” says RiseUp Texas spokesperson Rockie Gonzalez. Gonzalez told Truthout that RiseUp has members working at the Capitol around the clock, as well as daily meetings and breakout groups, with caucuses representing people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ people.
But the coalition is fighting an uphill battle against ever-shifting legislative procedures — from the timestamp change that occurred at the end of State Senator Davis’s filibuster showing that the original bill, SB 5, had passed before the midnight deadline, to the cutting off of testimony without prior warning — that seem to point to a rigged legislative game.
Houston National Organization for Women member Sarah Slamen was forcibly removed after she was recognized by the Senate Health and Human Services committee chair Monday night to testify. “My tone was just as insolent as the people who were against abortion,” she said. “They just didn’t like what I was going to say to them.”
“It’s an arbitrary censoring of citizens in public hearings. We own that capitol, we own that government, and they keep trying to kick us out,” she told Truthout. “This can only call for civil disobedience because they don’t follow their own rules.”
Slamen said she never saw legislators call decorum on anyone who testified in support of the bill, despite the fact that many gave disrespectful testimony comparing women to worms, bald eagles and leather wallets, among other things.”Texas is turning women into sexual chattel again.”
HB 2 would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, require physicians to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of any abortion facility, and require all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers that require doctors to administer in person the drugs that induce abortion.
Currently, only five clinics in Texas meet the requirements of the bill. The cost of obtaining an abortion at an ambulatory surgical center is significantly higher than at other facilities.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill but opponents of the legislation are laying the groundwork for a federal lawsuit to block the bill if it becomes law.
“Those communities, immigrant communities, people-of-color communities, rural communities, oftentimes, those are the people that belong to church groups, and those are the people we are trying to advocate for. We’re not trying to make the argument look black and white, that it’s just Republican Christians who support [the bill], because that’s actually not the truth,” Gonzalez said. “Those communities are alienated by the white feminist approach.”