Anti-abortion state senator shatters glass table while trying to silence pro-choice activists

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A state senator pounded his gavel so hard against a table to interrupt a woman protesting his anti-abortion bills in Texas that he shattered glass.

Senator Charles Schwertner, the Republican chair of the Texas Senate’s Committee on Health and Human Services. banged the gavel on the glass table a minute after Maggie Hennessy, a University of Texas student and intern with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas started to speak.

"I'm here on behalf of all absent women, families and doctors across the state whose lives will be negatively impacted by this bill," she said.

After she had explained why scrapping safe abortion procedures for second-trimester abortions would put women’s lives in jeopardy, the Senator interrupted.

"Ms Hennessy —" he said. "Your time is done."

But she continued: "I urge you to all stop playing with reproductive health care like it's your own political puppet."

The state Senator then dropped the gavel so hard that the glass table shattered. NARAL confirmed to The Independent that he missed the pad for the gavel and hit the table hard instead, which caused it to shatter.

Pictures of the broken table were circulated online. President of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, joked: "We said glass 'ceiling', not table."

Mr Schwertner had reportedly let dozens of other people speak much longer, including the first speaker, who was a representative from the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life. 

His committee consists of six Republicans and three Democrats.

NARAL argued that the three house bills - named SB8, SB258 and SB415 - were about banning safe medical procedures and making abortion harder to access. Mr Schwertner cited the fake videos that purported to film Planned Parenthood in 2015, which were heavily edited to make it look as though staff were involved in a cottage industry of selling fetal tissue for money.

Supported by two GOP senators Charles Perry and Don Huffines, he introduced a package of three anti-abortion bills: to scrap the safest procedure for second-trimester pregnancies, to force women to bury or cremate all fetal remains and to prevent women from donating fetal tissue from their abortions for science.

Blake Rocap, member of the legislative counsel at NARAL, told The Independent that lawmakers in Texas have filed a slew of anti-abortion bills to the state house and senate in the run-up to the March deadline, and pro-choice activists need to attend the hearings and protest each one to try and prevent it from becoming law.

"The law has a chance even if it's considered to be a 'fringe' one," he said. "That's how far we've come from making normal and safe public policy in Texas."

The state house recently filed a bill to completely ban abortion, and a physician who performed one would be eligible for the death penalty.

There have been more than 200 state-level restrictions on abortion across the country since 2010, and 50 alone last year. In Texas, Mr Rocap attributed the rise of anti-abortion bills to the current lieutenant governor David Dewhurst who made it much easier to pass through bills even if they faced opposition by reducing the ratio of approval needed in the house and senate.

The incident with state senator Schwertner comes shortly after Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used an arcane Senate rule to silence Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as she spoke against the confirmation of now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has been accused of racism.

She was reading out a letter of Coretta Scott King when Mr McConnell asked her to take her seat.