AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans in the Texas Legislature passed an omnibus abortion bill that is one of the most restrictive in the nation, but Democrats vowed Saturday to fight both in the courts and the ballot box as they used the measure to rally their supporters.
More than 2,000 demonstrators filled the Capitol building in Austin to oppose the bill, and state troopers drug six out of the Senate chamber for trying to disrupt the debate. The Republican majority ultimately passed the bill unchanged just before midnight, with all but one Democrat voting against it.
“Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life,” said Gov. Rick Perry who will sign the bill into law in the next few days. “This legislation builds on the strong and unwavering commitment we have made to defend life and protect women’s health.”
Democrats, though, promised a fight in the courts.
“There will be a lawsuit. I promise you,” Dallas Sen. Royce West said on the Senate floor, raising his right hand as if taking an oath.
Democrats offered 20 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. They ranged from exceptions for rape and incest to allowing doctors more leeway in prescribing abortion-inducing drugs. But Republicans would have none of it.
The bill is just one of many across the nation championed by anti-abortion groups set on a constitutional challenge to Roe vs Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to decide on an abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb.
Texas falls under the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has shown a willingness to accept more stringent limits on abortions. Passing the law also pleases Christian conservatives who make up the majority of Republican primary voters.
But the measure has also sparked protests in Texas not seen in least 20 years, with thousands of abortion rights supporters flooding the Capitol to draw out normally boring committee hearings and disrupting key votes. Protesters finished a filibuster started by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth by jeering for the last 15 minutes of the first special session, effectively killing the bill.
That’s when Perry called lawmakers back for round two. But opponents said the fight is far from over and used the popular anger to register and organize Democratic voters.
“Let’s make sure that tonight is not an ending point, it’s a beginning point for our future, our collective futures, as we work to take this state back.” Davis told 2,000 adoring supporters after the bill passed.
The Texas Republican Party, meanwhile, celebrated what they considered a major victory that makes Texas “a nationwide leader in pro-life legislation.”
“As Democrats continue to talk about their dreams of turning Texas blue, passage of HB2 is proof that Texans are conservative and organized and we look forward to working with our amazing Republican leadership in the Texas Legislature as they finish the special session strong,” a party statement said.
Friday’s debate took place between a packed gallery of demonstrators, with anti-abortion activists wearing blue and abortion-rights supporters wearing orange. Security was tight, and state troopers reported confiscating bottles of urine and feces as they worked to prevent another attempt to stop the Republican majority from passing the proposal.
Those arrested or removed from the chamber included four women who tried to chain themselves to a railing in the gallery while singing, “All we are saying is give choice a chance.” One of the women was successful in chaining herself, prompting a 10-minute recess.
Sen. Glen Hegar of Katy, the bill’s Republican author, argued that all abortions, including those induced with medications, should take place in an ambulatory surgical center in case of complications.
Democrats pointed out that childbirth is more dangerous than an abortion and there have been no serious problems with women taking abortion drugs at home.
Cecile Richards, the daughter of former Gov. Anne Richards and president of Planned Parenthood, said Texas Republicans and abortion opponents won this political round — but it could cost them down the road.
“All they have done is built a committed group of people across this state who are outraged about the treatment of women and the lengths to which this Legislature will go to take women’s health care away,” she said.
The dedication of those activists will be tested during the 2014 elections. Democrats have not won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994, the longest such losing streak in the nation.
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