AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — The Texas Senate gave final approval of omnibus pro-life legislation just before midnight Friday, July 12, passing the measure 19-11, mostly along party lines. Two days earlier the Texas House approved the hotly contested bill which now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Perry who has pledged to sign it.
Texas becomes the latest state to enact strict abortion regulations despite efforts by abortion rights activists to shut down or slow the legislative process. Their large and loud demonstrations at the Texas Capitol in recent weeks punctuated the debate but their efforts were countered by an influx of pro-life supporters days before the final vote.
“I am proud of our lawmakers and citizens who tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable,” Perry said in a prepared statement.
The bill, a compilation of legislation proposed in the regular session of the 83rd Legislature, puts tight restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. It requires abortion clinics to comply with standards of ambulatory clinics. Abortion doctors must have admitting privileges to hospitals within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic. And administration of the abortion medication RU 486 will be more closely monitored by the abortion physician.
News reports erroneously imply 36 or 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics will immediately close because they do not meet the ambulatory standards. Legislators opposed to the bill also stated as much. But clinics have until September 2014 to comply.
Ten hours of debate, 20 proposed amendments (all tabled), closing arguments and outbursts from pro-choice activists in the Senate gallery preceded passage of the bill. As promised by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, the rules of decorum were strictly enforced, with all protestors quickly escorted from the chamber. At the close of the first special session June 25 abortion rights activists shut down the voting process for an identical bill, thwarting its passage and requiring Perry to call a second special session to address pro-life legislation and others bill on the legislative calendar.
Friday afternoon Twitter feeds reported Department of Public Safety Troopers — called out in force to the Capitol at the outset of protests in late June — checked all purses and bags before allowing spectators into the Senate gallery. Reports of possible disruptions by the bill’s opponents spurred troopers to confiscate tampons, pads and other miscellaneous items. According to an East Texas news station, jars of feces, urine and paint also were seized.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D.-Fort Worth, became a pop icon among pro-choice advocates following her 11-hour filibuster against the legislation in the first special session. Since then she has campaigned against the pro-life bill at Planned Parenthood-sponsored rallies. And last night she praised the protestors who disrupted the earlier proceedings and have since organized protests at the Capitol which resulted in numerous arrests.
“There are people in charge here who want this bill to move very quickly so they won’t be delayed in their climb up a political ladder, so they will not be further embarrassed by the noisy, messy, beautiful public outcry that is part and parcel of our beloved democracy,” Davis said in her closing argument against HB 2.
But Sen. Eddie Lucio, D.-Brownsville, the lone Democrat to vote for HB 2, called the legislation a victory for the fight against “the war on children.” He admonished his peers on both sides of the aisle for not giving their support to legislation that champions life at all stages.
Senators on both sides of the issue throughout the debate invoked God as a source for their guiding principles. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D.-Laredo, said she was pro-life and supported Planned Parenthood for the health care services it provides. HB 2 would have received her support if it only addressed the 20-week ban on abortion. The other provisions, she and other Democrats argued, restrict access to health care for poor women.
Sen. John Whitmire, D.-Houston, bristled at the implication by Sen. Dan Patrick, R.-Houston, that anyone opposed to HB 2 lacked faith in God. Whitmire noted the day in 1956 when he was baptized and proclaimed Jesus as Lord in a Pasadena, Texas, Baptist church. He then went on to recount how he helped pay for a co-workers trip to New York for an abortion in 1972 when they were still illegal in Texas.
But Lucio, a Catholic, called out his peers.
“If you are a person of faith there is no way to justify abortion by pointing to God,” Lucio.
Other pro-life senators said science supports their arguments for the 20-week ban and their faith compelled them to treat all life with dignity.
Pro-life and conservative organizations, whose absence from the Capitol had grown increasingly conspicuous in contrast to the pro-choice demonstrations, rallied to the Capitol Monday in a show of support for the legislation. Many stayed through the final passage late Friday.
Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life, tweeted, “A good day for Texas. A good day to be Texan. God bless Texas and thank your David Dewhurst.”
In a statement posted by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R.-Katy, author of the Senate companion bill, Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, stated, “This new law adds a critical protection for a new class of citizens, preborn children.”
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.