AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas House on Tuesday night provisionally approved tough new abortion restrictions, making good on a third attempt to pass the measure this year.
Activists on both sides of the issue from across the state and nation descended on the Capitol building, and the demonstrators erupted into screams, cheers and chants immediately following the vote.
Lawmakers debated for more than 10 hours Tuesday, before voting on the Republicans’ signature legislation. They approved the bill mainly along party lines.
A final, formal vote is scheduled for Wednesday. The measure will then go to the Senate, where the Republican majority is also expected to approve the bill.
Republican Rep. Jody Laubenberg of Parker outlined the bill that would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers, dictate when abortion pills are taken and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Exceptions to the ban would only be allowed when the women’s life was in imminent danger.
Democrats and women’s rights activists have protested the bill for weeks. The measure failed to win enough support during the regular session, then died in the first special session due to a 13-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat.
Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, are intent on passing it quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature in a second special session. Democrats can do little but slow the bill down, attract as much attention as possible and lay the groundwork for a federal lawsuit to block it once it becomes law.
Davis’ successful filibuster put the Texas bill in the spotlight of the national abortion debate. On Monday night, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke to abortion rights opponents. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced a statewide bus tour Tuesday morning, dubbed Stand With Texas Women.
“It seems like every time women looked up from doing their laundry of helping children with their homework, the Texas Legislature is right there taking aim at them again,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Over the past few years, more than 50 women’s health centers have been shut down.”
Women from both parties who support abortion rights introduced a series of amendments to water down House Bill 2, hanging coat hangers on the front podium to symbolize illegal abortions, which they say will become more common if the law is enacted. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, called for an exception to the 20-week ban in cases of rape and incest, but Laubenberg rejected the proposal.
An anti-abortion voting record is critical to winning Republican primaries in Texas. Texas Alliance for Life, a Christian group that maintains a scorecard on lawmakers, sent out messages on Twitter opposing each amendment, signaling how lawmakers should vote for a high score.