Thousands flock to Texas Capitol over abortion

Updated: 2013-07-09 15:42


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AUSTIN — Texas Republicans pushed ahead Monday with aggressive efforts to pass tough new abortion restrictions they failed to approve last month, scheduling a House vote as thousands flocked to the Capitol for an anti-abortion rally and a marathon public hearing about the legislation.

Thousands flock to Texas Capitol over abortion

A girl holds a sign during an anti-abortion rally at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, July 8, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

Activists for and against the proposed restrictions descended on the Capitol for the hearing that started at 10 am., wearing their signature colors. About 2,000 anti-abortion demonstrators in blue staged a Capitol evening rally that heavily invoked God and Biblical teachings.

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, energized the crowd by describing the debate over abortion as a fight "between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan."

And about 100 yards away, about 1,000 orange-clad abortion-rights protesters gathered at the Capitol gate to march through downtown Austin.

Gov. Rick Perry, who was in San Antonio on Monday afternoon to announce that he will not seek re-election in 2014, has pledged the Legislature's Republican majority will pass the new restrictions in the current 30-day special session. The House Calendars Committee met early Monday to schedule a Tuesday debate and vote on the measure.

Monday night's rally had a smaller turnout and less energy than a July 1 abortion rights rally that drew about 5,000 people. But anti-abortion groups have the luxury of knowing their bill is on track to becoming law.

"We will pass this bill," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the cheering crowd that held signs saying "Unborn Babies Feel Pain" and "Abortion Kills Children."

Rally organizers urged bill supporters to pack the House gallery for Tuesday's vote.

"To see this coming to life is historic. It's what we've been waiting for since the early 1970s," said Ann Storm, of Arlington, who drove about three hours to the Capitol with her mother to attend the rally and witness Tuesday's House vote.

Inside the Capitol, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing was expected to last past midnight.

More than 2,000 people — some of whom showed up before dawn — registered to testify or log a position on the bill. About 475 signed up to give two minutes of testimony each.

At issue are identical House and Senate bills that 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.

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