- Thousands of people attend state Senate hearing on Texas abortion bill in Austin
- Bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks, tighten requirements for clinics that perform procedure
- The Legislature is in special session after Sen. Wendy Davis successfully filibustered the bill
The divisiveness of the abortion debate was on full display in the Texas statehouse Monday as SB1, also known as the fetal pain bill, was opened to public comment by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Thousands began lining up early in the morning, and the testimony was expected to last more than 16 hours.
The measure seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, the point at which some claim fetuses begin to feel pain.
Republican state Sen. Bob Deuell acknowledged that there are conflicting opinions in the medical community about fetal pain but remains a firm supporter of the bill. "Are we willing to take a chance that a baby at 20 weeks can feel pain?
There was little to no middle ground in the debate. Those in favor of abortion rights accused Republicans of creating a bill based on religion rather than science. Anti-abortion activists accuse the other side of using personal liberty to justify infanticide.
Throughout the day the committee called upon dozens of speakers, seating those with opposing views right next to each other.
For anti-abortion activists such as Lady Teresa Toms, the bill doesn't go far enough.
"God says, 'I knew you before you were even knitted in your mother's womb.' That baby is a baby from the beginning. There is no way that you need scientific evidence to know that that baby feels pain," she said. "We have laws on the books now that say if you murder a pregnant woman you are charged with two murders ... so what is the difference here?"
But for Sarah Shimmer, the bill is an egregious violation of women's rights. "I am a Republican woman, but regardless of what my personal beliefs and experiences are, my personal reproductive choices do not give me the right to restrict other women."
In addition to banning abortions after 20 weeks, the bill would require clinics that provide abortions to become ambulatory surgical centers; would tighten guidelines for administering the drug RU486, which can terminate early pregnancies; and would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic at which they're providing abortion services.
Critics of the measure said it would shut down most abortion clinics in Texas, denying access to many, while proponents say it would raise the standard of care for women.
The initial bill failed on June 25 after a dramatic day and night in which state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, talked for more than 10 hours in an attempt to run out the clock on the legislative session.
But Gov. Rick Perry called a special session so the legislature could take up the measure again. Perry's announcement that he would not be running for re-election fueled speculation about whether Davis can help rejuvenate the Texas Democratic party, which hasn't won a statewide election since 1994.
Davis has not yet announced any plans and released a statement congratulating Perry on his lifetime of public service adding, "I feel confident the next campaign will sort itself out in due time."
Planned Parenthood was quick to condemn the governor in a statement: "Rick Perry has done more to hurt women than any governor in history. Perry's legacy is endangering women's health in order to score political points with the far-right tea party fringe."
The Senate committee is expected to vote on the bill after the House version of the bill is brought to the floor. That is expected to happen Tuesday, when the legislature reconvenes.