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Senate Hearing on Abortion Regs Bill Underway

Hearing expected to last 16 hours
Jordan Smith, 2:50pm, Mon. Jul. 8, 2013
The line to register an opinion on SB 1 snaked through hallways, around corners, and up flights of stairs in the Capitol Extension in the hours before the abortion regs hearing got underway this morning

Texas Senate staffers had a procedure for registering witnesses up and running like a well-oiled machine hours before the Health and Human Services Committee convened this morning to consider Senate Bill 1, the Senate's version of the sweeping abortion regulations measure being considered during this second-called special session.

The line of people waiting to register an opinion on SB 1, which the committee is currently considering, snaked through the Capitol Extension – wending through a series of corridors, up flights of stairs, and around several more corners before finally ending before a long row of tables where staffers collected information from those wanting to oppose or support the measure, and those looking to testify. (Unlike the House, Senate committees do not have electronic witness registration.) By 9 am, 11 overflow rooms had been set up for those in queue and wanting to watch the hearing, playing out in the Senate Finance Committee room at the rear of the Extension.

As the hearing got under way, Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, vice-chair of the committee, laid pairs of small shoes on the dais – including one pink and one blue pair of tennis shoes – saying he would leave them there as an reminder to all the witnesses of the millions of aborted children who will never be able to testify at this kind of a hearing, or to run for political office. Indeed, Deuell, a doctor who has backed previous efforts to restrict access to family planning services, in an effort to de-fund Planned Parenthood (an effort that has, to date, failed to accomplish much more than seeing more than 127,000 poor and uninsured Texas women dropped from subsidized access to birth control and other basic reproductive health services), opened by noting that 30 million aborted children is nothing short of an "American Holocaust." (That didn't impress several witnesses who testified against the measure – one witness left behind her a pair of women's sandals to represent women who died from illegal abortions pre-Roe v. Wade; another noted that Deuell's little shoes could certainly be put to use to shod children who are here already, and living in less-than-ideal circumstances.)

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, questioned SB 1 author Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, about whether he'd be open to amending his bill to include exceptions to the abortion ban for women who are victims of rape and incest, or who suffer from serious psychological conditions. Hegar was not inclined to agree to do so – as was Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, during questioning by members of the House State Affairs Committee, during its July 2 hearing on House Bill 2, Laubenberg's version of the abortion regulations measure. HB 2 was unceremoniously voted out of committee after the committee's chair, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, cut off testimony after eight-and-a-half hours, but before more than 1,000 individuals who'd signed up to testify could do so.

As the Senate hearing got underway at 10 am, nearly 400 had already signed up to testify while more than 1,700 had registered an opinion on the measure that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks, restrict access to medical abortions, and likely shutter all but five of the state's abortion-providing facilities. If all goes well – and committee members refrain from asking witnesses "lengthy questions" – said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who is chair of the committee, the hearing should wrap up within 16 hours. Indeed, Nelson said she intends to allow all witnesses who were in line by 11 am, and who want to testify the chance to do so. It will be the last time the Senate committee will consider testimony on the regulations, Nelson said.

The full House is set to consider Laubenberg's bill when it reconvenes tomorrow.

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