Texas Republicans on Monday pushed on with their efforts to pass tough new abortion restrictions they were prevented from passing last month, scheduling a House vote and beginning what promised to be a marathon public hearing about the legislation.
Activists for and against the proposed restrictions descended on the Capitol for the hearing, and anti-abortion demonstrators were expected to stage a rally there later Monday.
Gov. Rick Perry has pledged the Legislature's Republican majority will pass the new restrictions in the current 30-day special session, and the House Calendars Committee met early Monday to schedule a Tuesday debate and vote on the measure.
The Senate Health and Human Service Committee began what promised to be a long public hearing on the bill, as more than 2,000 people lined up before registration was cut off at 11 a.m. Nearly 400 people had signed up to give two minutes of testimony each by its 10 a.m. start and staff was still counting registration cards of those who wished to speak.
Last week, a House panel heard eight hours of testimony from about 100 witness, but cut off thousands more who had registered.
Senate chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she was willing to allocate more time for witness testimony.
"We'll stay here the rest of the week if necessary," to hear witnesses, Nelson said, promising there would be "no breaks."
"We're going to run straight through the night," Nelson said.
Before any of them started, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, called abortion an "American holocaust" and placed two pair of infant sneakers at his desk as a reminder of fetuses that were aborted before they could be born.
The House and Senate bills would ban abortions 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 nonsurgical abortions take place in a surgical center.
Only five out of 42 clinics in Texas qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, and they are in major metropolitan areas. Many clinics would need to relocate to meet ventilation requirements and to have the space required for operating rooms and hallways.
Opponents of the bill say the new requirements are unnecessary and would force most Texas abortion clinics to close. Supporters of the bills say they want to reduce access to abortion and improve women's health care.
The 20-week ban is based on the scientifically disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by that point and thus, deserves protection from abortion. Other states have passed similar fetal pain restrictions, including some that are being challenged in court, but Texas has been at the center of the national abortion debate since a Democratic state senator succeeded in preventing the Legislature from passing the new restrictions last month by staging a nearly 13-hour filibuster on the session's last day.
Perry called lawmakers into a new 30-day special session to take up the bill again. An abortion-rights rally on July 1 drew thousands of demonstrators on both sides to the Capitol.
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