AUSTIN, Texas — 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.
Activists for and against the proposed restrictions descended on the Capitol for the hearing that started at 10 a.m., 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.
Only five out of 42 clinics in Texas qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, and they are in major metropolitan areas. Many clinics would need to relocate to meet ventilation requirements and to have the space required for operating rooms and hallways.
Opponents of the bill say the new requirements are unnecessary and would force most Texas abortion clinics to close. Supporters of the bills say they want to reduce access to abortion and improve women's health care. Texas health officials report that 72,240 abortions performed in the state in 2011, including 374 that happened after 20 weeks.
The 20-week ban is based on the scientifically disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain by that point and thus, deserves protection from abortion.
Other states have passed similar restrictions, including some that are being challenged in court, but Texas has been at the center of the national abortion debate since a Democratic state senator succeeded in preventing the Legislature from passing the new restrictions last month by staging a nearly 13-hour filibuster on the session's last day.
Perry called lawmakers into a new 30-day special session to take up the bill again and activists on both sides have kept up a steady presence at the Capitol.
Last week, a House panel heard eight hours of testimony from about 100 witnesses but cut off thousands more who had registered. Unlike the House, which has online registration, the Senate required witnesses to register in person.
Senate committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, allocated more time for testimony said she still needed to place a time limit. Nelson said the panel would not vote at the hearing's conclusion.
"We're going to run straight through the night," Nelson said.
Before any of them started, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, called abortion an "American holocaust" and placed two pairs of infant sneakers at his desk as a reminder of fetuses that were aborted before they could be born.
During the hearing, activists from both sides roamed the Capitol, packed waiting rooms and waited for their chance to speak. Security was tight, but the gathering lacked the tension of the previous week when demonstrators chanted, sang and prayed their way around crowded hallways.
Even with only a short time allowed, several women told emotionally wrenching stories of regrets about having abortions or delivered passionate defenses of a right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
Vanessa Riley, who opposed the bill, said she had an abortion after learning in her second trimester that the child she was carrying had severe developmental problems.
"My husband and I made the most ethical decision we could," Riley said. "I was preventing pain, not causing it."
At the anti-abortion rally, Attorney General Greg Abbott – who has used a wheelchair since he was 26, when a tree collapsed on him during a jog, leaving him paralyzed in both legs – said he would "stand for life" with demonstrators in spirit.
"You don't have to stand to fight for life," said Abbott, who is expected to soon announce if he will run for governor in 2014.
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Birth Control Causes Prostate Cancer
Earlier this year, a New Hampshire lawmaker came up with a new reason the government should not require health insurance companies to provide contraception. "As a man, would it interest you to know that Dr. Brownstein just published an article that links the pill to prostate cancer?" state Rep. Jeanine Notter (R) asked a male representative at the hearing, the <a href="http://merrimack.patch.com/articles/merrimack-rep-claims-the-pill-has-been-linked-to-prostate-cancer" target="_hplink">Merrimack Patch reports</a>. "In the children that are born from these women?" he asked. Notter could not clearly explain the study or how the pill results in prostate cancer. The study described in <a href="http://www.newsmaxhealth.com/dr_brownstein/Prostate_Cancer_The_Pill/2012/02/06/432113.html" target="_hplink">the newsletter of Dr. David Brownstein, a physician and holistic practitioner in Michigan,</a> suggests men may ingest estrogen through environmental contamination, not in utero from mothers taking birth control. An author of the study <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/11/15/study-link-between-birth-control-pills-and-prostate-cancer/" target="_hplink">told ABC News</a>, "This is just a hypothesis-generating idea. Women should not be throwing away the pill because of this."
Abortion Causes Breast Cancer
The New Hampshire House in 2012 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/abortion-breast-cancer-new-hampshire-_n_1345771.html" target="_hplink">passed a bill </a>that would require doctors to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure can cause breast cancer. Here is an excerpt from the bill, sponsored by Notter: <blockquote>Materials that inform the pregnant woman that there is a direct link between abortion and breast cancer. It is scientifically undisputed that full-term pregnancy reduces a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer. It is also undisputed that the earlier a woman has a first full-term pregnancy, the lower her risk of breast cancer becomes, because following a full-term pregnancy the breast tissue exposed to estrogen through the menstrual cycle is more mature and cancer resistant. In fact, for each year that a woman's first full-term pregnancy is delayed, her risk of breast cancer rises 3.5 percent. The theory that there is a direct link between abortion and breast cancer builds upon this undisputed foundation. During the first and second trimesters of pregnancy the breasts develop merely by duplicating immature tissues. Once a woman passes the thirty-second week of pregnancy (third trimester), the immature cells develop into mature cancer resistant cells. When an abortion ends a normal pregnancy, the woman is left with more immature breast tissue than she had before she was pregnant. </blockquote> There is <a href="http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/MoreInformation/is-abortion-linked-to-breast-cancer" target="_hplink">no link between abortions and breast cancer</a>, according to the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and other major health organizations. Similar provisions requiring doctors to make the abortion-breast cancer connection remain on the books in other state laws. Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas all inaccurately assert a risk in written counseling materials, according to the <a href="http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_MWPA.pdf" target="_hplink">Guttmacher Institute</a>, a New York-based reproductive health research organization.
Birth Control Is A Sex Pill
Rush Limbaugh showed he has no understanding of how birth control pills work when he attacked Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student barred from testifying as a Democratic witness at a congressional hearing about the Obama administration's contraception policy. Limbaugh <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/rush-limbaugh-sandra-fluke-slut_n_1311640.html" target="_hplink">called Fluke a "slut"</a> for needing lots of birth control to manage her sex life. "She wants to be paid to have sex," Limbaugh said. "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex." Rick Santorum has also said that contraception encourages a bad kind of sex. Last year, in an interview with the Evangelical blog Caffeinated Thoughts, <a href="http://swampland.time.com/2012/02/14/rick-santorum-wants-to-fight-the-dangers-of-contraception/" target="_hplink">Santorum warned of the "dangers of contraception:"</a> <blockquote>"It's not OK because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That's the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act."</blockquote> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-keegan/gop-obama-birth-control_b_1281808.html" target="_hplink">Most women who have had sex have used contraception</a>. Birth control pills -- which are taken daily, regardless of how frequently a woman has sex -- may also be taken to manage endometriosis, ovarian cysts, acne or other health problems. A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/arizona-birth-control-bill-contraception-medical-reasons_n_1344557.html" target="_hplink">bill in Arizona proposed penalizing women who use the pill for non-medical reasons</a>.
Abortion Industry Is 'Selling Abortions'
A Republican state legislator in Arizona <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/20/abortion-bill-arizona-terri-proud-witness-email_n_1368386.html" target="_hplink">wrote in an email to a constituent</a> earlier this year that she wanted to force women seeking abortions to watch the procedure first. "Personally I'd like to make a law that mandates a woman watch an abortion being performed prior to having a 'surgical procedure,'" state Rep. Terri Proud (R) wrote. The constituent responded by email that she was "speechless" and after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/abortion-bill-abortion-constituent-email-watching-abortion_n_1376389.html?ref=politics" target="_hplink">a baffling exchange with Proud</a>, released the emails to the media. Facing national outrage, Proud<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/terri-proud-arizona-legislator-abortion_n_1371213.html" target="_hplink"> issued a statement</a>: <blockquote>For too long, Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry have placed selling abortions above the health and safety of women. My message to a constituent last week emphasized my concerns with how abortion providers have not been honest with women about the realities of abortion, and the short and long-term risks of this dangerous surgical procedure.</blockquote> The notion that Planned Parenthood <a href="http://www.whyprolife.com/the-abortion-industry-they-believe-in-getting-children-young/" target="_hplink">baits women into unwanted pregnancies by providing ineffective contraception</a> then profits off the abortions is nothing new, but it's as outrageous as it sounds. Abortions constitute <a href="http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/planned-parenthood-glance-5552.htm" target="_hplink">3 percent</a> of Planned Parenthood's services, and the organization estimates it <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/what-planned-parenthood-actually-does/2011/04/06/AFhBPa2C_blog.html" target="_hplink">prevents more than 220,000 abortions each year</a> by providing contraception. Because Planned Parenthood is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/title-x-headline_n_846852.html" target="_hplink">not allowed to use federal funds for abortions</a>, defunding the program may limit contraception services and result in more abortions.
Women Can't Get Pregnant From Rape
Just before Idaho's Senate withdrew a mandatory ultrasound bill in March, a Republican bill sponsor <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/20/chuck-winder-rape-abortions_n_1366994.html" target="_hplink">made some startling comments about abortion and rape</a>. "Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this," said state Sen. Chuck Winder (R). "I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that's part of the counseling that goes on." It wasn't the first time a lawmaker has suggested that women seeking abortions may lie about rape. Some anti-abortion activists actually believe that rape cannot result in pregnancy. <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/annanorth/the-6-craziest-things-people-have-said-about-pregn" target="_hplink">Buzzfeed dug up a series of bizarre statements </a>Republicans have made about pregnancy, rape, juices not flowing and more. Here's one: <blockquote>The odds that a woman who is raped will get pregnant are "one in millions and millions and millions," said state Rep. Stephen Freind, R-Delaware County, the Legislature's leading abortion foe.<br> The reason, Freind said, is that the traumatic experience of rape causes a woman to "secrete a certain secretion" that tends to kill sperm.<br> Two Philadelphia doctors specializing in human reproduction characterized Freind's contention as scientifically baseless.</blockquote> <a href="http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/ask-dr-cullins/cullins-preg-5291.htm" target="_hplink">According to Planned Parenthood</a>, about 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy, and providing all rape victims with emergency contraception could prevent more than 22,000 unwanted pregnancies a year. <em><strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this text misstated the status of Idaho's mandatory ultrasound bill legislation. Lawmakers ultimately decided to table the measure.</em>
Prenatal Testing Leads To Abortion
Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum made prenatal testing a campaign issue in February when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/rick-santorum-prenatal-testing_n_1293153.html#s584044&title=On_Contraception" target="_hplink">he declared</a> the tests are designed to "cull the ranks of the disabled in our society" by encouraging abortions. "Amniocentesis does, in fact, result more often than not in this country in abortions," <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/rick-santorum-prenatal-testing-encourages-abortions/2012/02/19/gIQAvmZeNR_blog.html" target="_hplink">Santorum, who has a severely disabled daughter, said on "Face the Nation."</a> "That is a fact." In fact, more than 90 percent of amniocenteses tests result in normal diagnoses, and half of fetuses diagnosed with severe abnormalities -- about 5 percent of those tested -- are aborted, <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/feb/27/rick-santorum/rick-santorum-says-amniocentesis-does-fact-result-/" target="_hplink">according to PolitiFact</a>. A campaign spokeswoman for Obama <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/rick-santorum-prenatal-testing_n_1293153.html#s584044&title=On_Contraception" target="_hplink">condemned Santorum's comments</a> as "misinformed and dangerous" and pointed out that the tests help women have safer deliveries and healthier babies.
HPV Vaccine Causes Retardation
Back when Rick Perry was campaigning for president, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/rick-perry-hpv-vaccine_n_961159.html" target="_hplink">his rivals attacked him</a> for signing an executive order mandating the human papillomavirus vaccine for young girls, and misinformation quickly spread. Michele Bachmann <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/michele-bachmann-retardation-claim_n_970919.html" target="_hplink">insinuated that the vaccine causes mental retardation</a>, while Santorum spoke out against "having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government." The vaccine is safe and effective in preventing cervical cancer caused by certain strains of HPV, and Perry's 2007 executive order, which was overturned by the state legislature, would have allowed parents to opt out of having their daughters vaccinated. Dr. Renata Arrington-Sanders, a professor at Johns Hopkins University medical school, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/rick-perry-hpv-vaccine_n_961159.html" target="_hplink">told HuffPost's Laura Bassett</a>: <blockquote>"The HPV vaccine has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated based on multiple medical reports that have been submitted through government databases. It's unfortunate that this particular vaccine is surrounded by a lot of controversy just because it's been labeled as an STD-prevention vaccine. We have similar vaccines, such as one for hepatitis B, that are also used in a mandated approach and have shown very successful rates with prevention."</blockquote>
Plan B Causes Abortions
The debate over the Obama administration's contraception policy has yielded some puzzling claims about birth control and Plan B. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) <a href="http://www.lifenews.com/2012/02/08/boehner-pledges-congress-will-overturn-new-obama-mandate/" target="_hplink">addressed the House</a> in February, urging his colleagues to reverse Obama's mandate for health insurance coverage of "abortion-inducing drugs:" <blockquote>In recent days, Americans of every faith and political persuasion have mobilized in objection to a rule put forward by the Obama administration that constitutes an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country. This rule would require faith-based employers -- including Catholic charities, schools, universities, and hospitals -- to provide services they believe are immoral. Those services include sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and devices, and contraception.</blockquote> Michele Bachmann called Plan B an abortion pill when she incorrectly criticized Obama for making the drug available over-the-counter -- an FDA recommendation the administration and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/obama-sebelius-morning-after-pill_n_1137014.html" target="_hplink">rejected last year</a>. "The president can put abortion pills for girls 8 years of age, 11 years of age, on the bubblegum aisle," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/28/gop-candidates-personhood_n_1172082.html" target="_hplink">Bachmann said</a> at a "pro-life" town hall in December. Contraceptives, emergency or not, prevent pregnancy. They don't cause abortions. Plan B works in the same way and with the same ingredients as birth control pills, just at a higher dosage, and<a href="http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/august/31.44.html?start=2" target="_hplink"> does nothing to stop the development of a fetus</a>.
Your Fetus Is Just Fine
The Arizona Senate<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/wrongful-birth-bill-arizona-senate-abortion-bill_n_1335117.html" target="_hplink"> passed a bill</a> in March to protect doctors from "wrongful birth" lawsuits -- effectively allowing them to withhold information that may lead a patient to get an abortion. HuffPost's John Celock <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/kansas-anti-abortion-bill_n_1258185.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) told the Claims Journal that she sponsored the law because she did not want claimants to blame a doctor for a baby born with disabilities. Under the provisions of her bill, a doctor could not be sued for medical malpractice if the doctor withholds information from a mother about a child's potential health issues that could influence her decision to have an abortion. In addition, a lawsuit could not be filed on the child's behalf regarding a disability.</blockquote> Kansas lawmakers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/kansas-anti-abortion-bill_n_1258185.html" target="_hplink">have considered similar legislation</a>.