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House committee approves new Texas abortion regulations

It looks like state lawmakers will have to spend the coming Sunday locked in what may be the most emotional debate of the Special Session. Legislation to put new restrictions on abortions cleared a House committee Friday afternoon after a contentious overnight hearing that started on Thursday.

Members of the House State Affairs Committee made quick work of three abortion bills. The only "No" votes came from the two Democrats who made it to the meeting

Committee Chairman Byron Cook held the meeting in a small third floor room at the capitol. Comments from the public were not allowed. Cook says the Bills have to go through one more step before they can reach the House Floor for a late weekend debate.

"Well it still has to get out, through Calendar, so I would think probably Sunday," said Rep. Cook.

Thursday, hundreds of people packed into a larger hearing room in a capitol complex hearing room hoping to have their say. Around mid-night, several Pro-Choice supporters got upset after Chairman Cook pulled the plug on public testimony. He later returned and extended the hearing, but when it did eventually end, shortly before 4 a.m., some people left upset.

"I went up to speak and they did the final cut off right before me," said Pro Choice supporter Emily Rookeley.

Friday afternoon Cook made no apologies.

"We had taken hours of testimony as you are aware we were not even required to take testimony at all, but we thought it was important to the process and that's why we did that," said Cook.

An apology was made Friday morning by Committee Member Jessica Farrar.

"And please do not be discouraged by this process you witnessed tonight," urged Farrar.

The Houston Democrat made a more emotional statement about the over-night showdown after the abortion legislation cleared the committee.

"I am so disgusted, I cannot tell you I left home so angry because I've never seen the process, I'm ashamed ... I'm just ashamed at what I saw. Because people traveled from all over the state," said Rep. Farrar.

The bills call for a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. There are also requirements for clinics and the doctors who work in them to meet tougher standards. The Special Session is expected to end Tuesday.

Democrats say they will try to block the legislation by talking them to death when the debate starts on the House floor.

"That is a possibility ... but it's not a certainly and so there is danger this legislation can still pass," said Farrar.

Pro-choice supporters have condemned the abortion bills as un-necessary, expensive and motivated by the Republican leadership to make political points with their base.

A recent poll by the University of Texas and the tribune, an on-line political news service, shows how the issue divides the state. More than 50 percent of those who responded to the June survey say they support a law that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks. The number goes even higher when fetal pain is mentioned. About 30 percent oppose that kind of legislation.

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