Texas state Senate passes abortion restrictions

July 13, 2013

The Texas Senate voted 19-11 early Saturday to pass sweeping restrictions on abortions, the conclusion of a weeks-long standoff over reproductive rights in the state.

Although the bill’s passage was all but assured, opponents still turned out in droves. One T-shirt favored by protesters invoked another lost cause: “This is Texas, baby. Remember the Alamo.” Fearing a disruption, Department of Public Safety officials confiscated anything that could be thrown from the gallery — leading some protesters to lose tampons, condoms, glitter and other potential projectiles.

“The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning,” said Sen. Wendy Davis (D) as the vote on the legislation she successfully filibustered last month neared.

Loud protesters helped kill the legislation two weeks ago, despite large Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. This time around, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pledged, there would be no disruptions. Inside the Senate chamber, observers watched in silence from the gallery while protesters chanted in the Capitol rotunda.

Just before the vote, Dewhurst thanked both supporters and opponents and “even the press” for being there and asked for everyone “to love each other, as Christ loved the church, as we love all of those unborn babies.”

Republicans systematically voted down all 20 proposed amendments to the bill, which will ban abortions after 20 weeks, require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and require all abortions take place in surgical centers. As the last amendment failed, five singing protesters chained themselves to the railing of the gallery; state troopers removed them from the room.

“This will probably be the hardest piece of legislation I will ever work on,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Glenn Hegar, as he brought eight hours of debate — and weeks of protests — to a close.  

The measure now heads to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for his signature.

Predicting defeat, Planned Parenthood organized a post-vote protest march and rally.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (R) headed to Austin on Thursday morning to support the bill, appearing with Dewhurst and antiabortion activists.

“I am here because Texas is the center of the pro-life movement right now,” he told the crowd.

State legislatures around the country have been passing new abortion restrictions, but Texas’s law combines several in ways that would severely limit abortion in the state.

Only six of the state’s 42 abortion clinics meet the new requirements, and opponents say the legislation means dozens will be shuttered. Supporters argue that the new restrictions protect both new lives and the health of women. The bill takes effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns. Clinics will have until September 2014 to comply with the new regulations.

The battle will continue on two fronts — in court and at the ballot box.

Courts have blocked 20-week bans in Arizona, Georgia and Idaho. New clinic regulations have been stalled by judges in Alabama and Mississippi. At one point, state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) predicted that the Texas law would be “tied up in the courts” until at least 2015, when the legislature reconvenes. Some abortion opponents welcome the legal challenges, hoping that a case will go to the Supreme Court and lead to the overturning of
Roe v. Wade.

The bill contains a severability clause, meaning that if one part of the legislation is held up in court the other portions will still take effect.

Regardless of whether the new restrictions take effect in Texas, abortion rights advocates hope to harness the energy of the protests into political action. “There’s a whole lot of people in that state. If they start to vote, things are going to change,” said Dawn Laguens, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “We are in this for the long run.”

Anti-abortion groups said the passage of the bill would put pressure on the U.S. Senate, where there will soon be a push to pass a House-approved bill banning abortion at 20 weeks. While that bill faces stiff opposition, Maureen Ferguson, a senior policy adviser with The Catholic Association, said senators should act on the bill given the practices of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was recently convicted of killing three infants after they were born alive and the involuntary manslaughter of an adult patient at his clinic.

“In a post-Gosnell era, we should address rampant sub-standard practices at abortion clinics and protect pre-born babies,” Ferguson said. “Today is a great day for Texans as they pass a bill protecting women and pre-born children who feel pain during an abortion.”

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