The Big Conversation

A week after the dramatic defeat of an abortion bill in Texas, the revived legislation took its first step toward passage.

As the Tribune's Becca Aaronson reports, the House State Affairs Committee voted just after midnight along party lines to approve House Bill 2, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks and could shut down almost 90 percent of the state's abortion clinics.

Gov. Rick Perry called another special session after Democrats and raucous protesters last Tuesday helped kill the bill in a stunning moment of legislative drama. Thousands of activists returned to the Capitol on Monday in one of the largest protests in recent state history.

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The political displays continued on Tuesday as throngs of advocates packed the House committee hearing, which began around 3:30 p.m. By the end of the night, more than 3,500 people had registered an opinion on the bill, and more than 1,000 had signed up to testify.

Over the objections of Democrats who said opponents of the bill crowded outside the committee room outnumbered the supporters, roughly the same number of witnesses from each side were allowed to testify. Supporters said the legislation would protect unborn children and women's health, while opponents said it would drastically restrict access to a legal procedure.

"This is not about protecting women and our health, but about closing down clinics," said one witness, who condemned Perry for using the "language of sexual violence" when he recently told a National Right to Life convention that the "louder [opponents of the bill] scream, the more we know we are getting something done."

Said another witness who testified while holding a baby in her arms: "I speak on behalf of the children who will be missed, because they were murdered prior to be being born."

After public testimony was closed at midnight, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, criticized Republicans for ending the hearing after having heard from fewer than 100 witnesses.

"The time clock has not run out on this special session, and I do believe the people who come here do have a right to have their voices heard," Turner told the committee. 

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The bill, which Republicans have enough votes to pass, now moves to the full House.

Culled

•    Perry Fuels Speculation About His Next Move (The New York Times): "For Gov. Rick Perry, the longest-serving Texas governor, three four-year terms apparently may be enough. Or not. Mr. Perry has sent an e-mail message to friends that he plans to make an announcement concerning his “exciting future plans” at an event in San Antonio on Monday. … If Mr. Perry, 63, announces on Monday that he is not seeking re-election, he would add further momentum to [Wendy] Davis and to other Democrats, who have been struggling to break the lock Republicans have on statewide offices."

•    Rubio to Introduce Senate Bill to Ban Abortions After 20 Weeks (The Weekly Standard): "Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today agreed to be the lead sponsor of a Senate bill to ban abortion after an unborn child is 20 weeks old. A similar measure passed the House last month and a state version is now being debated in the Texas legislature, where it is likely to be approved. With Rubio’s presence, the bill is certain to gain enormous media attention and thus more national visibility for the issue of limiting late term abortions. Right-to-life groups have urged Rubio to take the lead on the issue, believing he would be the strongest possible advocate in the Senate."

•    Transportation, Criminal Justice Bills Headed to Full Senate (The Texas Tribune): "The Senate could vote on Senate Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 2 as early as next week. The measures address two issues — transportation infrastructure funding and sentencing guidelines for 17-year-old murderers — that Gov. Rick Perry included in the second special session’s agenda."

Quote to Note: "We're not going to talk about our strategy ahead of the game." — Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, asked in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow how Democrats will fight the abortion bill in the second special session

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