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Texas Senate approves abortion restrictions

The passage comes after a week of demonstrations on both sides; a previous attempt to vote ended with the dramatic filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis.

July 12, 2013|By Devin Kelly

Capping weeks of divisive protests and political drama, the Texas Senate approved one of the nation's strictest abortion bills in a 19-11 vote, following earlier approval by the state House.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Perry, who has pledged to sign it.

Passage came during a session that stretched to midnight in the state Capitol in Austin. Before the vote, watched by activists from both sides, lawmakers offered emotional remarks inflected in many cases with religious references.

"I listen to the word of God in this issue," said Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, adding: "Are we a nation that stands for a Judeo-Christian ethic, or are we not?"

That drew a sharp rebuke from fellow Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat who, like Patrick, represents a Houston-area seat. He said the issue was the most emotional in his 40 years in Texas' Legislature.

"The proponents of this legislation have no monopoly on their faith," Whitmire said, adding that Patrick had "crossed the line."

The passage of the bill comes after a week of demonstrations drew national attention and thousands of activists from both sides to Austin to stage rallies and marches.

The last attempt to pass the bill ended in chaos, when a 13-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis derailed the vote and turned her into an overnight celebrity. Davis joined other politicians this week on a "Stand With Texas Women" bus tour organized by Planned Parenthood, which made stops in several Texas cities.

Democratic opposition, however, did little to halt the eventual passage of the bill in a Republican-controlled Legislature.

The bill would ban abortion beginning at 20 weeks after conception, unless the woman's health is in immediate danger. It would require doctors performing the procedure to have hospital-admitting privileges within 30 miles and for abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.

The bill also required a doctor to be present when a woman induces an abortion by taking a pill.

Abortion-rights activists say the measure will force the closure of all but five of the state's 42 abortion providers. About 80,000 abortions occur in Texas each year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The restrictions approved Friday would be among the nation's toughest and are part of a widespread effort to chip away at abortion rights at the state level.

In the first six months of this year, a total of 47 line items restricting abortion have been enacted in 18 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research group that supports abortion rights. Perry's signing of the Texas legislation would bring the 2013 count to 52 restrictions in 19 states.

That midyear tally is the second-highest of all time, surpassed only by 2011, when 80 line-item restrictions were enacted in 19 states.

With the governor's signature, Texas would become the seventh state to require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and the 28th to require abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers.

The state also joins a growing number that require the doctor to be in the same room as a woman planning to induce abortion by taking a pill, effectively prohibiting the practice of telemedicine. Missouri adopted a similar restriction Friday, with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon allowing the Republican-backed legislation to become law without his signature.

Much of the momentum for the restrictions is occurring in states where Republican majorities control legislatures, said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute.

devin.kelly@latimes.com

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