More than ten hours after gavelling in, the Texas House voted in favor of HB2, the state’s omnibus abortion bill. It’s the legislation’s second reading, and it needs one more procedural vote, which will come tomorrow, before it can be sent to the Senate. Senate sources tell me the upper chamber will probably vote on the legislation early next week. They anticipate that after some fireworks from pro-choice protesters, the legislation will pass and head to Governor Rick Perry’s desk.
House Democrats (and two Republicans, Representatives Sarah Davis and Susan King) offered a total of 26 amendments. The panoply of proposed changes included everything from eliminating language about ambulatory surgical centers to banning the death penalty. None of the amendments were added to the legislation, and the House passed HB2 almost completely along party lines.
During the House’s deliberation, a crowd of pro-life and pro-choice protesters intermingled in the Capitol building’s rotunda, shouting chants of “Stand for life” and “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate” over each other. At one point, pro-life protesters (some of whom hoisted crucifixes and rosaries) started saying a Hail Mary, which pro-choice protesters drowned out by yelling chants. When the pro-choice protesters stopped shouting, the pro-life protesters said more Hail Marys. Then the yelling and chanting continued.
None of this was audible in the House chamber, according to one senator, and proceedings regarding the amendments continued without interruption. In her closing argument, Representative Jodie Laubenberg — who’s taken significant flack, to put it lightly, for her support for the bill — defended the legislation.
“This is not about politics, this is heartfelt for every member, and I would say on both sides it is heartfelt,” she said. “Politics takes the easy path. This has not been easy for anyone, but this is the right thing to do for who we are as humanity.”
The vote was 98-49, with one Republican voting against HB2 (Davis) and five Democrats in favor.
Outside the chamber, a large group of pro-choice protesters congregated to greet legislators as they left. They chanted “Shame on you!” as the bill’s supporters left the chamber and they cheered for the pro-choice legislators. Numerous Department of Public Safety officers overlooked the activity; one told me that almost 300 were called to Austin from around the state to provide security. Protesters also hoisted signs (one read “Exorcise The Demon “Church” From The State”) and some had messages scrawled on their bodies. One woman wore a black bikini top and had “Come & Take It!” written on her chest in marker. Another had streaks of red color drawn on her inner thighs. Officers cleared a path through the group so lawmakers could get out.
After the vote, I spoke with Representative Jonathan Stickland, a pro-life Republican who told me last week that he’d gotten significant verbal abuse from pro-choice protesters.
“I’m just thankful,” he told me. “Looking back and seeing God’s hand, I’m just thankful to be a part of it.”