Nearly 2,000 people, some with babies in strollers and slings, signed up to testify at a hearing on Tuesday about a Texas proposal that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and toughen standards for abortion clinics.
Wearing colors indicating their position (blue for bill supporters and orange for opponents), they showed up in such large numbers that officials had to set up nine overflow rooms by the time the Texas House of Representatives hearing began.
The hearing was expected to end at midnight local time, meaning many of those who signed up were unlikely to have an opportunity to speak.
The sometimes emotional hearing came a week after Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis filibustered for hours in an effort to defeat the bill. It stalled action on the measure at the end of the first special legislative session.
Davis became an instant Democratic celebrity and focused national attention on the efforts of some conservative states to restrict the right to abortion granted by the Supreme Court.
If the Texas proposal is approved, it would be the 13th state to ban most abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Some have gone further. Arkansas has banned the procedure after 12 weeks and North Dakota as early as six weeks.
Texas Governor Rick Perry called the legislature back for a second special session after the Davis filibuster. Majority Republicans are determined to pass the abortion restrictions this time.
But Davis' stalling tactics forced Republicans to start the legislative process over again.
The bill setting out the abortion restrictions had to be resubmitted this week, and the hearing on Tuesday was the next step in the process. It was unclear if the committee holding the hearing would take a vote late on Tuesday or early Wednesday to advance the measure to the House floor.
If approved by the House, it would have to go through the same process in the state Senate.
Supporters of the bill carried signs on Tuesday including "protect women, protect life." They told lawmakers, sometimes tearfully, that the bill would save babies' lives and prevent them from feeling pain.
Bill opponents, carrying signs such as "Stop the war on women," told committee members that the legislation would open the door to illegal, unsafe abortions.
Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, says that the measure could lead to the closure of all but six of the state's 42 abortion facilities. Bill author Representative Jodie Laubenberg, a Republican, disagreed that the clinics would go out of business.
Heather Pencil, carrying 14-month-old Dante on her back, said before the hearing that the bill would protect women by ensuring that clinics are not providing dangerous, substandard care.
"All babies from conception should be protected," said Gina Baehl, who has three teenage sons.
Kelly Savedra, joined by her 2-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, said that the bill made her mad.
"I don't think the government has any right to tell me or my daughter what we can do with our bodies," she said.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on Tuesday said it was opposed to the legislation, saying that it is "plainly intended to restrict the reproductive rights of women in Texas through a series of requirements that improperly regulate the medical practice and interfere with the patient-physician relationship." (Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune)
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