Texas Legislature Approves Tough New Abortion Restrictions

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texasabortionsState Sen. Wendy Davis made national headlines when she held a 13-hour filibuster to stop the Texas legislature from passing an anti-abortion bill, but last night the Texas House approved tough new abortion restrictions anyway—the third time this year the measure has been considered.

As activists on both sides of the issue from Texas and beyond descended on the Capitol building in Austin holding raucous demonstrations, the lawmakers debated for more than 10 hours Tuesday before the bill was approved along party lines. After it passes the House, the measure goes to the state Senate, where the Republican majority is also expected to approve the bill.

The bill 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 woman’s life is in imminent danger.

While the 20-week ban has gotten the bulk of the attention, perhaps the most far-reaching portion of the bill is the restrictions on the abortion facilities. Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director and now a pro-life advocate who testified during the Texas Senate hearings this week on the abortion bill, claims the ban on late-term abortions is not the most disputed portion of the bill.

“What’s being highly contested by abortion supporters in this bill is not really the 20-week ban,” said Johnson. “It’s the requirement that all abortion facilities be ambulatory surgical centers, which would require either they be compliant of these regulations by abortion centers or they would be closing down.”

According to Johnson, only five out of Texas’ 42 existing abortion centers would meet the new standards, meaning the others would be shut down by September 1, 2014 if they did not comply with the new regulations.

Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, are eager to pass the bill quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature in a second special session. Democrats are virtually helpless to stop it, left with the options to perhaps 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.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced it would be doing a statewide bus tour called 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 and daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. “Over the past few years, more than 50 women’s health centers have been shut down.”

While women from both parties who support abortion rights introduced a series of amendments to water down House Bill 2, they hung coat hangers on the front podium to symbolize illegal abortions, which they say will become more common if the law is enacted. Even after Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, called for an exception to the 20-week ban in cases of rape and incest, Laubenberg rejected the proposal.

In Texas, an anti-abortion voting record is critical to winning Republican primaries as the Texas Alliance for Life, a Christian group that maintains a scorecard on lawmakers, sends out messages on Twitter opposing each amendment and signaling how lawmakers should vote for a high score.

Many of the supporters of the restrictions say they will improve the health care women receive by placing more stringent conditions on abortions. In fact, Laubenberg said on the floor of the House that her bill would ensure that women get high-quality treatment while protecting “babies” after 20 weeks of gestation.

“What we’re talking about today truly is about the health and safety of a woman who would undergo an abortion, but also, I want to point out, we are talking about an unborn child,” she said.While federal courts have ruled that states can regulate abortions, they can’t make them impossible to obtain—though that hasn’t stopped Republican-led legislatures from passing laws in recent years that test the legal limits.

Houston Rep. Sarah Davis, the only Republican opposed to the law, said the bill is unconstitutional. She offered an amendment to make it less stringent.
“I believe the bill as drafted will be a de facto ban on abortion,” she said. “No one wants to see abortions, it’s a terrible way to end a pregnancy, but it is a constitutionally protected right.” 
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