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Republicans say they'll pass abortion restrictions this time

Posted Monday, Jul. 01, 2013  Print Reprints
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As thousands of protesters descended on the state Capitol, Republican state leaders launched their second special legislative session with a clear message: They will not stop until they’ve approved far tighter restrictions on abortion.

With 30 days and the majority of state lawmakers on their side, Republicans are almost assured success this time around as they seek to pass restrictions that would ban abortions starting 20 weeks after fertilization and require clinics performing the procedure to meet costly new requirements that could put many of them out of business.

“The Texas Legislature is poised to finish its history-making work this year by passing legislation to protect the unborn and women’s health,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.

In the first special session, the measure didn’t make it to the Senate for final approval until the last day, giving state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the window — and the national stage — to filibuster the measure to death.

“I was lucky enough to be able to make the choices in my life that I knew would work for me,” Davis told supporters on Monday, responding to Perry’s suggestion that, as a teenage mother herself, she should’ve “learned from her own example.”

“That’s what we are fighting for now,” Davis added. “A Texas where every woman is able to overcome her unique challenges, because she has the same choices and the same chances I did.”

The new versions of the bill — House Bill 2, by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, and Senate Bill, 1 by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy — are headed for committee hearings. A House hearing is scheduled for this afternoon.

When the Senate will begin its committee work is less clear; the Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, was out of state on Monday attending her daughter’s graduation.

What is clear is that Republican legislators plan to make quick work of the process.

The House and Senate each met for less than an hour Monday before recessing for the week. That was just long enough to schedule new committee hearings for the proposed restrictions that would make Texas one of the toughest places in the nation for women to get abortions.

Laubenberg said that when her bill hits the House floor — as early as next week — she does not plan to accept amendments from her colleagues. As of Monday afternoon, more than 400 people had already pledged to testify against her bill in committee.

“The best thing to do is keep the bill the way it is,” Laubenberg said.

The Senate, meanwhile, will proceed without the “two-thirds rule” the chamber normally uses — meaning it will only take a simple majority to bring the bill up for a vote. (The Senate also did without that provision during the first special session, which ended Tuesday.)

“If they win this battle, because of timing and throwing out tradition and rules, I think we will win the war,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

While Watson wouldn’t provide specifics on what the Democrats’ strategy will be to fight the legislation this time around, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, said they will take it one day at a time and file measures to help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the state.

Moving faster

House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who oversees the Senate, haven’t revealed plans to do anything differently in the second special session – but it’s lost on no one that moving through the process faster, and ensuring both chambers carry out final votes long before the end of the session, will limit Democratic stall tactics and make any possible filibuster moot because too much time would be left.

The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requiring that the procedure be performed at ambulatory surgical centers, and mandating that doctors who perform abortions obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Only five out of 42 clinics qualify as ambulatory surgical centers and they are located only in major metropolitan areas. Dewhurst has acknowledged that the ultimate goal is to shutter abortion clinics.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.