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Abortion bill headed for its final showdown Friday

Posted Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013  Print Reprints
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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 final showdown over new abortion restrictions in Texas comes Friday.

Eyes nationwide will be trained on the Senate Friday afternoon as a Texas-size battle is expected to erupt over a proposal to enact some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations. This is the first time the measure is back before senators since it died in the final chaotic moments of the first special legislative session last month.

Republicans vow to pass the bill and Democrats say they can’t stop it, but they do promise a spirited debate — and a legal challenge once it becomes law.

National leaders at the forefront of the abortion debate — from Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards to former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum — have made their way to Texas this week to weigh in on the issue.

“Texas is the center of the pro-life debate in the country right now,” Santorum said. “This is an important moment.

“It is the movement of love,” he said. “That’s what this movement is.”

Richards said the movement is more intrusive than anything.

“It seems like every time women looked up from doing their laundry or helping children with their homework, the Texas Legislature is right there taking aim at them again,” said Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of former Democratic Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

Texans on both sides of the issue — supporters wearing blue shirts and opponents wearing orange shirts — are expected to show up at the Texas Capitol in large numbers.

At issue is a bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, something supporters say could spare as many as 400 lives a year and is needed because a fetus can feel pain at that stage and should be protected.

Opponents say the measure — which also requires that abortions be performed at ambulatory surgical centers and that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic — will lead to countless clinics closing.

There now are about three dozen licensed health centers in Texas where women may get abortions, and all but a handful likely would close if this bill becomes law. Facilities would likely remain only in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

The Senate convenes at 2 p.m. Friday.

‘War on babies’

On Thursday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, headed by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, approved the abortion bill on a 6-3 vote along party lines

As lawmakers cast their votes, a group of women wearing orange shirts stood and started singing We’re Not Gonna Take It, a defiant rock anthem from the 1980s, as they walked out of the room.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said Democrats do not have have enough votes to stop the proposal and there’s no way a filibuster could last for the rest of the month.

“But as soon as it is signed by the governor, a court challenge will be filed,” he said.

Nelson said she is tired of hearing that the bill is a “war on women” and looks forward to a debate about the bill on the Senate floor.

“I’ve been fighting for 20 years to improve things for women,” said Nelson, whose district includes part of Tarrant County. “This is not a war on women.

“This bill is trying to correct a war on babies that is taking place.”

Dewhurst vowed that the Senate will not be disrupted as it was on the last day of the first special session after a filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and loud noise from the crowd in the gallery.

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have been brought in from around the state, potentially doubling the security at the Capitol, during the past two weeks.

“We are not going to be interrupted in doing the people’s work by unruly mobs,” Dewhurst said during a press conference he held with Santorum and others. “If there are any disturbances, we are going to clear the gallery.

“I hope we don’t get to that point, but if we do, we do.”

Beginning and ending

Republicans anticipate victory on the abortion bill no later than this weekend.

Democrats plan to offer several amendments to the bill, essentially previewing their future legal arguments once they file a lawsuit to stop the measure from becoming law.

“We will stand and we will fight — not just in the days ahead, but in the months to come,” Davis tweeted. “No matter what, the fight’s not over.”

Southern Baptist minister Rick Scarborough said it’s fitting that Texas is the backdrop for this latest fight over abortion.

“Abortion began in Texas,” he said, referring to the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade court ruling that originated in Texas and made abortion legal. “I pray abortion will end in Texas.”

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