Texas House OKs abortion limits, sends measure to Senate

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013  Print Reprints
Number of abortions reported in Texas: 2000: 76,121 2001: 77,537 2002: 79,929 2003: 79,166 2004: 75,053 2005: 77,374 2006: 82,056 2007: 81,079 2008: 81,591 2009: 77,850 2010: 77,592 2011: 72,470 Total: 937,818 Source: Texas Department of State Health Services

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The battle over abortion will ratchet up another notch today when the Texas Senate begins work on a bitterly contested bill that would create some of the nation’s toughest restrictions.

The House voted 96-49 to give final approval to the bill Wednesday, sending it to the Senate, where passage appears certain.

Legal challenges are already being threatened. The legislation would ban abortions after 20 weeks and add restrictions that would lead to the closing of most abortion clinics in Texas.

But for now, there’s still a battle to be fought beginning today in the Senate chambers.

“The tremendous outpouring of support for this legislation has demonstrated how Texas stands for life, and I commend everyone who wore blue, turned out and spoke up in support of life in our state,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. “Now is not the time to waver, however, as the Senate continues its important work in support of women’s health and protecting the lives of our most vulnerable Texans.”

Eyes throughout Texas and nationwide will watch the fate of the bill in the Senate. It perished there last month in the final moments of the first special session after a filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and loud noise from the crowd in the galleries created pandemonium.

Several senators said they have been told to prepare to begin debate Friday afternoon.

Top Republican state officials, particularly Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, have been criticized for allowing such upheaval to occur during legislative proceedings.

Perry quickly called lawmakers back to work July 1 to approve the bill once and for all. And Dewhurst has vowed to make sure it passes the Republican-controlled Senate this time.

“As a Texan, I respect your toughness,” he told opponents of the bill this week. “But as a leader, we’re going to pass this bill.”

At the heart of the debate is banning abortions after 20 weeks — something supporters say is needed because a fetus can feel pain at that stage.

Other provisions would require abortions to be performed at ambulatory surgical centers, would create more oversight of women taking abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the facilities where they perform abortions.

Texas has about three dozen licensed health centers where women can get abortions.

If this measure becomes law, critics say, all but a few will likely close, leaving facilities only in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Party lines

The bill’s House sponsor — Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker — fended off more than two dozen attempts this week, including one Wednesday, to add amendments to the measure.

“This bill will protect Texas women by requiring abortion clinics and physicians in Texas to comply with common-sense medical safety standards,” she said. “Texas women deserve better than substandard safety conditions when they undergo a potentially serious medical procedure. It is time these clinics put patients ahead of profits.”

Tarrant County members voted, as expected, along party lines.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, said he was glad the bill passed.

“It is absolutely the best vote I have cast,” he said. “It will protect the most innocent Texans and improve women’s health.”

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, disagreed.

“The bill is horrible,” he said. “There are thousands and thousands of unintended negative consequences on Texas families. It is outrageous.

“But it ain’t over until it’s over,” he said. “There will be a lawsuit filed the day after the governor signs it. It clearly is unconstitutional.”

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said he believes the bill will withstand court scrutiny.

“I think the way we wrote the bill provides plenty of time to make changes and that it’s constitutional,” he said.

‘Disruptive’ behavior

Security has increased throughout the Capitol, with more Department of Public Safety troopers brought in from across the state. Officials are working to avoid a repeat of what happened in the Senate last month — actions that top GOP officials have called “mob rule” and Democrats have dubbed the “citizens’ filibuster.”

Shortly before the vote Wednesday, more than a dozen additional DPS troopers entered the House gallery.

As members began casting their votes around 11 a.m., a woman in the third-floor gallery stood and said loudly that she is a “woman of color,” adding, “I object to these proceedings.”

Several DPS officers removed the woman as the final vote was tallied. After her initial comment, much of what she said was drowned out as many House members stood to applaud passage of the bill.

Five people — four women and one man — were arrested after being “disruptive” in the House gallery. They were charged with disrupting a meeting or procession, a Class B misdemeanor, DPS records show.

Outside the chamber, other protesters gathered, chanting and yelling about an attack on women’s rights.

One woman repeatedly yelled: “Cowards, bullies, losers, cheats. You can’t win a fair fight.”

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, headed by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, took more than a dozen hours of testimony from hundreds of Texans on the bill this week.

The committee didn’t vote on the bill at the time but is expected to cast a vote this morning — likely determining how quickly the bill can reach the Senate floor for debate.

There is plenty of time — and no threat of a filibuster — because the 30-day special started July 1.

But Senate Democrats continued with their newest approach to the bill — a multicity Stand with Texas Women statewide bus tour.

They had asked for statewide hearings on the bill but were told that it wasn’t practical during the limited time lawmakers have in a 30-day session to debate legislation.

So they began traveling the state, with Planned Parenthood officials and others, talking to Texans. The bus stopped in Fort Worth on Wednesday night.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley