Male Texas Lawmakers Nearly Fistfight on House Floor After GOP Women Defect from Anti-Abortion Bill

An abortion battle in the Texas legislature nearly turned into a fistfight on Sunday night after several Republican women changed their mind about a bill that would ban health insurance from covering abortions.

According to the Houston Chronicle, House sergeants had to stop Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland from attacking Rep. Byron Cook (R) after Senate Bill 575 did not make it to the House floor as he expected.

Cook had reportedly promised to move SB 575 out of the State Affairs Committee to the Calendars Committee if Stickland agreed to drop an amendment that would have banned abortions based on fetal abnormalities.

Although Cook kept his word, three Republican women on the Calendars Committee — Reps. Sarah Davis, Debbie Riddle and Patricia Harless — backed out of supporting the bill at the last minute and sided with the Democrats, killing the measure with a 7-7 vote.

At around 9:30 p.m., an enraged Stickland got in Cook’s face on the House floor. After a brief yelling match and nearly coming to blows, House sergeants got in between the two to prevent the scuffle from continuing, The Texas Tribune reported.

Cook later told reporters that he never promised that the bill would pass the Calendars Committee.

“My commitment was to get the bill out [of State Affairs], to get it to Calendars,” Cook said. “I did everything I could do. What I can’t do is interfere with other members’ free will to vote their conscience. Everybody should be able to do that. And women sent a clear message that they weren’t comfortable with this legislation, probably weren’t comfortable with us men telling them what to do. And I respect that.”

But in the end, Stickland’s temper tantrum worked.

The Calendars Committee reconvened after the House session and voted to move SB575 forward by a vote of 8-0. Two Republicans and all of the Democrats were marked as absent. Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle swung her vote in support of the bill, but it was not immediately clear why she had changed her mind.

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