AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — The Texas Senate late Friday (July 12) passed sweeping abortion restrictions almost entirely along party lines following weeks of protests, lobbying and debate from both sides in the abortion debate.
House Bill 2, identical to its Senate companion bill, awaits the promised signature of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who called a second special legislative session to deal with the matter after opponents successfully stalled it as time expired in the first special session on June 25.
The bill, passed 19-11 with one Democrat voting for it, is a compilation of legislation proposed in the regular session of the 83rd Legislature that ended in May. It will ban most abortions after 20 weeks “post-fertilization,” require ambulatory care standards for abortion facilities and require abortion doctors to have hospital privileges within 30 miles of their practices.
HB 2 also will require abortion doctors to be present when any abortion-inducing drug, including RU-486, is administered.
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.
Critics and many news reports claimed the increased requirements would force the majority of Texas abortion clinics to close, while proponents countered that abortion clinics should be held to the same standards of care as other surgical centers. Numerous media outlets have reported that only six or seven of the 42 Texas abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory care.
According to the bill’s text, clinics have until Sept. 1, 2014, to comply with the ambulatory care requirement.
Pro-life senators, including Republican Donna Campbell, an emergency room physician, have said the evidence suggests that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks.
The vote came just before midnight — more than 10 hours into debate and more than two weeks after a 10-plus-hour filibuster, procedural stalling and a raucous crowd of protestors at the end of the first special session succeeded in keeping the Republican majority from prevailing with the bill.
Pro-choice senators proposed 20 amendments without success and stated their strong disagreement with the bill in closing arguments. During debate, occasional outbursts from pro-choice activists in the Senate gallery could be heard.
As promised by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, the rules of decorum were strictly enforced and violators were quickly escorted from the chamber.
On Friday, 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 and other miscellaneous items. The DPS released a statement that jars of feces, urine and paint also were seized but pro-choice activists disputed that report, charging the DPS with playing politics under pressure from the GOP-controlled legislature, the Texas Tribune online newspaper reported.
State 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. On Friday during debate she praised the protestors who disrupted the earlier proceedings.
Protestors continued their rally against the bill on Saturday, vowing legal challenges.
“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.
Both sides invoked God as a source for their guiding principles during the debate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D.-Laredo, said she was pro-life and supported Planned Parenthood for the health care services it provides. She said she supported the 20-week ban on abortion but not the other requirements. The other provisions, she and other Democrats argued, restrict access to health care for poor women.
Sen. John Whitmire, D.-Houston, rebuked Sen. Dan Patrick, R.-Houston, for implying that anyone opposed to HB 2 lacked faith in God. Whitmire noted the day in 1956 when he was baptized after proclaiming “Jesus as my Lord and Savior” at a Baptist church in Pasadena, Texas. He then went on to recount how he helped pay for a co-worker’s 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,” he said.
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, July 8, 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 you David Dewhurst.”
In a statement retweeted by state 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.”
The 20-week abortion ban is based on “post-fertilization” age of a pre-born child based on the estimate of a physician, who must then file the information with the state when an abortion is performed, the bill says.
The ban will not apply to abortions deemed “necessary to avert the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman or abortions that are performed on unborn children with severe fetal abnormalities.”
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. With additional reporting by TEXAN managing editor Jerry Pierce.